Belgium’s decision is good, but Europe failed with Palestine – Kashmir Reader
The Belgian government’s decision on 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. From the cancellation of trade missions to Israel to the enthusiastic support of Belgian civil society, artists, academics and ordinary citizens, Belgium has demonstrated 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 the Palestinians their freedom.
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 issued new guidelines to ensure that products from illegal settlements are labeled as such. In January 2016, the EU reportedly “reinforced” its position that these products must be clearly labeled.
However, little labeling has taken place since, a reality that has compelled EU citizens, with the support of various civil society organizations, to challenge the failure of the European political establishment by appealing directly to the EU. 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 scheduled meeting he had with Belgian officials, forcing the Foreign Ministry’s office in Brussels to justify and further clarify his position.
As might be expected, the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian rights groups, civil society organizations and many others have praised Belgium for its courageous stand, which is akin to other positions taken. in the past by countries like Ireland which in May became the first EU country to implement 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 over the labeling of products made in illegal settlements, the clear distinction between settlements and “Israel proper”, and the exponential growth in trade between Israel and the EU, one has to be careful about don’t jump to premature conclusions.
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, 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 sport. While European trade with Israel is facilitated by the 1995 EU-Israel Association Agreement, Israel’s integration into Europe is largely managed by the European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan ( PEV) of 2004. 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 a 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 alone will not deter Israel, especially as 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 single democratic secular state remains the key. only practical, possible and theoretically fair end to this protracted tragedy.
Despite the EU’s clear and even unambiguous statements regarding the illegality of the Israeli occupation, it is evident 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, there is more to the EU’s conduct in Israel than hypocrisy, arguably resulting from 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.
– The writer 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).