The EU Tells Israel, "End the Settlements — Or Else"


Finally, the European Union is putting its money where its mouth has been. This week, the EU released an edict vowing to refuse all financial aid to Israeli settlements outside the country's 1967 borders. This may just be the decision that will force Israel to become critical about settlement expansion and ready — finally — for a two-state solution. 

Though many long expected the EU's decision, it is about 30 years in the making. In 1979, the United Nations unanimously voted that Israeli settlements were illegal. The European Union has been an “observer member” of the UN since 1974.

Israeli officials have denounced this week's mandate, but EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton seems unmoved. The EU's statement does not delegitimize Israel, but rather forces the state to recognize that expansion is illegal. On Friday, Ashton echoed earlier statements that the edict simply “reiterates the long-held position that bilateral agreements with Israel do not cover the territory that came under Israel’s administration in June 1967.”

The EU’s edict is compelling, in that it clearly delineates Israel’s geographical boundaries. The document’s preamble states, “The EU does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over… the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem… and does not consider them to be a part of Israel’s territory, irrespective of their legal status under domestic law.”

But the EU members are not the only people with Israel on their radars. John Kerry, U.S secretary of state, is back in the region for his sixth time in one year. Kerry aims to reboot stalled peace negotiations and reinstate America's role as Israel and Palestine's mediator. 

Yet Israeli officials have been using Kerry instead as a shoulder to cry on. In a meeting with Kerry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that the EU edict undermines a two-state solution and that Europe’s support of Palestinian rights “will make it much more difficult to start negotiations.”

Much more sinister was his initial reaction this week. Netanyahu said, “We will not accept any external edicts about our border.”  But foreign policy chief Ashton rejected that claim as well, saying that the edict was not meant to “prejudge the outcome of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

This is not just ceremonial banter. The EU verdict puts Israel at a real economic and political loss and both parties understand that. 

The European Union’s edict has set the precedent for widespread boycotts of Israel and normalizes the idea for other foreign bodies that may have once been afraid of expressing their discontent alone. But one particular concern for Israeli officials is the status of “Horizon 2020,” a scientific cooperation deal with the EU. The project is supposed to “generate investments worth hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) in Israeli technology companies.” The EU edict may not crash Israel's economy altogether, but could slow its 6% growth rate and push unemployment higher than the current 6.5%. 

The mandate takes effect in five months, on January 1, 2014. Already Israeli politicians are trying to persuade Europe to renege on its decision. They warned the German, British, and French ambassadors of a “serious crisis between it and the European Union over the move.” 

Yet the envoys seem unimpressed. The French ambassador in Tel Aviv said, “The Israelis informed us of their concerns. I reminded them that the new guidelines were a continuation of European policy on settlements.”

At least one Israeli has praised the European Union's boycott as a much needed wake-up call for his country. 

Gideon Levy, a leftist columnist for Haaretz, gave his opinion earlier this week, saying, "As long as Israelis don’t pay a price for the occupation ... they have no incentive to bring it to an end.” 

Well, the European Union just gave them a push. It's up to Israel how far they want to budge. 

Uchechi is a proud supporter of Palestine and the PolicyMic politics intern otherwise. Follow @chechkalu