An inconsistent appeal for consistency over Israel/Palestine

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In his new ECFR report on the Middle East Peace Process (“Europe and the Vanishing Two State Solution”) Nick Witney argues that the EU’s policy on Israel is fatally tainted by double standards: while declarations might be tough, actions do not follow. Such inconsistency, he convincingly argues, is both in conflict with the increasingly anti-Israeli attitude of European public opinion, and undermines the credibility of European external policy in general. He suggests a number of punitive measures, from separate labeling of products from Israeli West Bank settlements to imposition of visas on settlers and more.

My critique is not about Israeli policies. There is indeed plenty to criticise there, while any defense would miss the point of Witney’s argument: the promotion of European, not Israeli interests. I believe, however, that the policy shift Witney proposes would be harmful to the very goals of consistency and respect of European values he wants to uphold.

In a 800-word blog post it is impossible to do justice to a 79-page long report, painstakingly documented and elegantly argued. However, it does seem necessary to point out that:

  • The intensity of the European criticism of Israel seems out of all proportion to the severity of policies criticised. In this, European public opinion has rejoined the deplorable UN practice, which makes Israel the only country whose policies are a permanent item on the agenda of the Human Rights Council, and who earns more condemning resolutions from that body than all other countries combined. This is apparent in Witney’s report itself, which for instance criticises Israel’s “possession of nuclear weapons” while advocating a softening of policy on Iran – even if Iran, not Israel, is in violation of the non-proliferation treaty.
     
  • The extensive report makes no mention of other, in many respects more brutal, occupation regimes: Turkey in Cyprus; Morocco in Spanish West Sahara; Armenia in Azerbaijan. Only India in Kashmir is mentioned, as example of an issue in which “Europe feels no urge to intervene”, with no further comment.  If consistency in policy is what Witney is after, then he should have at least discussed them.
     
  • He is right to warn that a hypothetical annexation of the West Bank without granting Palestinians citizenship would make Israel an “apartheid” state. But since there are no such plans the concern is spurious, and can only serve to taint Israel by dubious association.
     
  • Much of the evidence he brings to bear is very valuable, but some highly doubtful. Were, for example, Israel to build in the so-called E1 area near Jerusalem, this would in fact create serious contiguity problems for a future Palestinian state, as it would in that place have a width of 18 km only. Yet this is exactly the width of Israel at the Latrun bulge within the 1967 borders, which are advocated as the base for negotiations. Possible construction in E1, like elsewhere, should be criticized on general, not spurious principles.
     
  • Having said that, even criticism of settlement policy should be subject to reason. Witney expresses understanding for Abbas’ position of refusing to negotiate while settlements are being built. Yet when in 2011 Netanyahu declared a 10 month freeze, the PA president came to the negotiating table only when it was about to expire, and broke off as it did. Nor did he resume negotiations without preconditions, as he had said he will, after Palestine obtained observer status at the UN. Witney ignores that track record.
     
  • And surely settlers and settlements, mentioned 94 times in the text, are not the only, if serious, obstacle to peace; terror and terrorism also is – yet they get all of 9 mentions. Witney clearly does not see that as a problem, which is probably why he also advocates opening a dialogue with Hamas after the next Palestinian elections, even if the organisation does not implement the Quartet demands of abandoning terror, recognising Israel, and abiding by previous agreements.
     
  • Witney also suggests that the EU no longer oppose Palestinian efforts to bring a case to the ICC against Israel. While this position is eminently legitimate, it should for consistency’s sake be strengthened by approval of EU member states also being sued there, eg for crimes committed in Iraq, Libya, or Mali.

The policy shift Witney advocates does not, therefore, seem to be based on consistency, but rather on a selective and unfair reading of Israeli policies. As such it would certainly, if implemented, create a major crisis between Jerusalem and Brussels, without necessarily advancing the cause of peace. The paper fails to explain how that would be in the EU’s interest.

Anybody interested in a somewhat more detailed exposition of these arguments please contact me at [email protected] for a copy of my critique

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