Belgium is on the right track, but Palestine has failed Europe

EU Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff visits Palestinian communities threatened by settlement expansion around East Jerusalem. (Photo: via EUD Palestine)

By Ramzy Baroud

Belgian government decision November 25 to label products made in illegal Israeli Jewish settlements is welcome, although it will ultimately prove ineffective.

Belgium has historically shown its solidarity with Palestine in relation to other European countries, for example Great Britain, Germany and France. Of cancelation from trade missions to Israel to the enthusiastic support of Belgian civil society, artists, academics and ordinary citizens, Belgium has shown its willingness to play a constructive role in ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Clearly, it will take more than symbolic solidarity and political declarations to force Israel to respect international law, dismantle apartheid, end the military occupation and grant freedom to the Palestinians.

Belgium’s dilemma is the same across Europe. While European governments insist on the centrality of issues of democracy, human rights and international law in their relations with Israel, they take no meaningful steps to ensure that Israel complies with the stated policies of the European Union. European Union.

Belgium’s decision to differentiate Israeli products made in Israel from those made in illegal Jewish settlements is not based on Brussels’ own legal framework of reference, but on several historic EU decisions in this regard. For example, in November 2015 the EU published new directives to ensure that products from illegal settlements are labeled as such. In January 2016, the EU would have ‘reinforced‘its position that these products should be clearly labeled.

However, little labeling has taken place since then, a reality that has forced EU citizens, with the support of various civil society organizations, to challenge the failure of the European political establishment in attractive directly to EU courts. In November 2019, the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice, ruled that products from illegal Israeli settlements must provide “an indication of where it comes from (allowing consumers to make) informed choices.”

Namely, the recent decision of Belgium is just a belated implementation of various decisions which have been issued in the past and which have not been respected by most of the EU countries.

Instead of showing their full support for Belgium and initiating their own process of implementing the European Court’s ruling, most European countries have remained silent as Tel Aviv rampaged against Brussels, claiming that the The decision was “anti-Israel”, claiming, wrongly, that it “strengthens extremists”.

As soon as the Belgian government’s decision was reported in the international media, Israel made its usual crisis. Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll immediately canceled a meeting he had scheduled with Belgian officials, forcing the Foreign Ministry’s office in Brussels to to justify and further clarify its position.

Predictably, the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian rights groups, civil society organizations and many individuals congratulated Belgium for its courageous position, which is similar to other positions adopted in the past by countries such as Ireland, which in May became the first EU country to execute such a measure.

The prevailing wisdom behind such euphoria is that such steps can serve as a prelude to other practical steps, which could ultimately generate the momentum needed for a full European boycott of Israel. But is this really the case?

Judging by the European division on the labeling of products made in illegal settlements, the clear distinction between the settlements and “Israel proper”, and the exponentially growing trade between Israel and the EU, one must be careful not to jump to premature conclusions.

According to According to figures from the European Commission, the EU is Israel’s largest trading partner, with a total trade value of € 31 billion in 2020.

More important than trade is that the EU has been the main entry point for integrating Israel into a wider global dynamic of politics, economy, security and even culture, music and sports. While European trade with Israel is ease by the 1995 EU-Israel Association Agreement, Israel’s integration into Europe is managed largely through the 2004 European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) Action Plan. This latest agreement, in particular, aimed to compensate for the delegitimization of the Israeli occupation and apartheid in Palestine carried out by the Palestinians and their supporters.

It would be implausible to believe that the EU, which made the strategic choice to legitimize, integrate and normalize Israel in the eyes of Europeans and the rest of the international community, could also be the very entity that holds Israel accountable for its obligations in under international law.

It should also be remembered that, even if all European countries decide to label the products of the settlements, this will not deter Israel, especially since the EU will do everything possible to close the trade deficit resulting from this decision.

Moreover, any symbolic or even real pressure exerted by the EU is often exerted within the framework of the European declared will for a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine. While it is true that such a “solution” remains the only one ratified by the international community, the complexity of the problem, common sense and “facts on the ground” tell us that coexistence in a secular democratic state remains the only one. practical, possible and theoretically just put an end to this protracted tragedy.

Despite the articulate and even unambiguous speech statements by the EU regarding the illegality of the Israeli occupation, it is obvious that the Europeans do not have a real strategy on Palestine and Israel. If such a strategy exists, it is riddled with confusion and contradictions. In truth, Israel has no reason to take Europe seriously.

It is easy to accuse the EU of hypocrisy. However, the EU’s conduct in Israel is more than hypocrisy, arguably the result of a lack of political unity and a shared vision among EU members. The EU is in fact helping to support the Israeli occupation, funding it directly or indirectly. EU trade, political validation and Israel’s cultural integration have allowed the status quo of the seemingly endless occupation of Palestine to continue. No labeling of products from Jewish settlements alone will be able to reverse this trend.

While Belgium’s position, on its own, is laudable – as it reflects the relentless activism and pressure of the country’s civil society – it should not be seen as an alternative to a courageous political and moral position, similar to that taken during the anti-the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Until then, Europe is forced to demonstrate its willingness to stand on the right side of history.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and editor-in-chief of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These chains will be broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons ”(Clarity Press). Dr Baroud is a non-resident principal investigator at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). Its website is www.ramzybaroud.net


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