EU decision adds Middle East confusion not clarity
By Haim Bibas
One of the core obstacles to peace in the Middle East has always been the refusal of sections of the Arab world to accept the legitimacy and sovereignty of the State of Israel, since its very inception in 1948. Sadly, the European Union made a decision last week which is ostensibly a mere technicality over trade, but in reality will only make this barrier to peace even more difficult to overcome.
Residents of the Modi’in Maccabim-Re’ut municipality, the thriving Israeli city of which I am mayor, discovered last week that several neighbourhoods, due to their proximity to the West Bank, had been added to a list of areas excluded from the EU-Israel free trade agreement. In effect, the EU no longer considers these homes and indeed sections of our city to be part of the State of Israel.
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International organizations and external agencies such as the UN and EU have long played an important role in resolving conflicts in this region. Indeed, the EU is a key component of The Quartet, tasked with mediating a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet, adding parts of Modi’in to the EU’s free trade ‘blacklist’ exposes the dangers of making decisions from afar, divorced from the reality on the ground.
Modi’in Maccabim-Re’ut is a booming city of around 80,000 residents. It is a young, vibrant place, where the average age is 32 and 40% of residents are under 18-years-old. Indeed, Modi’in is home to many young educated professionals, with 65% of residents having graduated university. Never had it occurred to them that there was any question over the status of their homes.
Quite simply, Modi’in is an integral part of the State of Israel. Even in Israel’s dynamic democracy, which encompasses a vast spectrum of opinions, the status of Modi’in has never been in question. Tellingly, nor has it ever been placed on the agenda by the Palestinians during peace negotiations. Modi’in is plainly not an area under dispute. And yet, the EU saw fit to judge differently from afar.
While the EU claims that their revised list of trading dos and don’ts “will make it easier for EU importers to determine whether customs duties need to be paid,” in reality it makes things more complicated, by casting doubt on what has always been an agreed position by all parties. Far from adding clarity, it adds a new layer of intricacy to an already complex situation. Absurdly, the EU’s search for unambiguous trading guidelines may well have made the peace-making process yet more difficult.
When asked for clarification on which specific areas of the Modi’in Maccabim-Re’ut municipality are subject to the new EU customs guidelines, the response rendered the decision even more nonsensical. The EU confirmed that only three parts of Modi’in had been included on the list of areas from which manufactured products would not be allowed custom-free entry into Europe. Yet, each of these areas of Modi’in is purely residential. They are situated far from our city’s industrial zone, do not include any kind of business district and nor are they home to any form of manufacturing or produce.
In other words, the inclusion of Modi’in in the EU’s guidelines is in practice utterly superfluous to any trade agreement. The only thing that the EU’s clarification made clear was an utter disregard for the reality on the ground. Rather than better regulate trade, the EU has cast doubt over the residency of thousands of people.
We will be challenging this wholly unnecessary decision at the highest possible levels. Not only is it an affront to the city of Modi’in. It is also an insulting and dangerous imposition on the sovereignty of the State of Israel, by seeking to unilaterally impose the limits of Israeli authority. Ours is a country which dreams of peace and will continue to strive for co-existence with our neighbours. Yet, the European Union’s decision, taken without real knowledge or understanding of our municipality and our region, is in danger of extending the boundaries of the conflict.
The writer is the Mayor of the City of Modi’in Maccabim – Re’ut