Sunday

1st May 2016

Opinion

EU (finally) applies own law on Israeli settlements

  • Ahava - Israeli settler firm got EU taxpayers' money (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

It’s a “big mistake,” Israel’s deputy foreign minister told Army Radio.

It’s “an economic terror attack against peace,” the economy minister said.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed: “I will not allow anyone to harm the hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in [the West Bank] the Golan Heights, or in Jerusalem.”

It also “sabotages” US efforts to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the finance minister said, days before the US secretary of state announced the parties had tentatively agreed to talk.

So, what’s the big deal?

A few years ago the European Union woke up to the fact that permitting its funding to go to Israeli settlements violates not only international law, but also EU law.

On 16 July, the European Commission announced new “guidelines” intended to prevent this from happening. It is a bit of EU housekeeping that is so obvious, it is hard to see why it was not done long ago.

Legally speaking, the guidelines are not sanctions on Israel, or even on the settlements. They are a belated and necessary effort to correctly implement the EU’s own law and to keep its hands clean.

The settlements are illegal under international law. The EU has long recognised this and called on Israel to remove them.

The EU also funds activities in Israel, which insists the settlements are legal.

Under the guidelines, starting in 2014, the EU will only give “grants, prizes and other financial instruments [loans]” to Israeli entities that do not operate in the occupied Palestinian territories and promise not to spend the money there.

The grants tend go to a wide range of activities, including research and development projects, cultural projects and youth sports programs.

But Israeli officials view the guidelines as political arm-twisting over the settlements.

One official told The Guardian: "We don't believe the EU's position should be forced down our throats like geese.”

But as the guidelines note, the EU is obliged to uphold international law, and not to support or “recognise” breaches by third parties. For the EU to give money to Israeli entities that operate in settlements could amount to the EU treating Israel’s settlement policies as if they are lawful.

Yet, those policies breach the international law prohibitions on transferring a civilian population into occupied territory and otherwise treating that territory as if Israel had sovereignty over it.

The EU cannot very well claim to respect such international law - as set out for instance, in the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court - while giving money to Israeli entities that aid and abet illegal settlement activities.

Yet this is precisely what the EU has done in the past.

Europe gave €1.12 million in research grants to Ahava, a company that produces cosmetics at a factory located in a settlement. When a European parliamentarian called out the commission for the blunder, it lamely explained that Ahava’s corporate headquarters are “formally established” inside Israel.

European taxpayers gave €114,400, under a cultural programme, to the Israeli Antiquities Authority, which is headquartered in East Jerusalem, part of the West Bank that Israel unilaterally annexed in violation of international law.

The authority has carried out excavations in the occupied territory without Palestinian participation, and subcontracted a settler organization, Elad, to run the “City of David” archaeological tourist site in the middle of a Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.

The excavations damaged Palestinian homes.

The commission said the authority applied for the money using a P.O. box in West Jerusalem.

To avoid repeats of these errors, the guidelines impose a three-part test for Israeli entities - including governmental bodies, businesses, and not-for-profit organisations - seeking EU money during the next financial cycle, from 2014 to 2020.

First, they must be established inside Israel proper.

Second, grants and prizes will be available only for activities inside Israel, and loans only to entities that don’t operate in the occupied territories at all.

Finally, Israeli applicants seeking European money must “submit a declaration on honour” that they meet and will comply with the criteria.

Israeli groups that are established inside Israel can receive European assistance for activities they carry out in the occupied territories for the benefit of the Palestinian population.

The EU and member states’ leaders should keep Europe’s legal obligations firmly in mind when faced with the inevitable counter-pressure.

Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly urged European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to postpone publication of the guidelines, while Dani Dayan, a settler representative, bizarrely invoked the Holocaust when tweeting against them: “How will be selection done [sic] on [Israeli] youth delegations? A German will say: Tel Aviv to the right, East Jlem to the left? Or will it be a Polish job?”

Brussels is slowly realising that commission actions should be carefully scrutinised to avoid betraying the EU’s laws that incorporate its obligations under international law.

There is much more work to be done.

But the EU’s law-driven attempt to do no evil is a salutary surprise. Will Washington finally show some principled backbone and do the same?

The writer is a senior researcher in the Middle East division at Human Rights Watch

News in Brief

  1. Netherlands funds €1.3mn Russian media project
  2. Fake euros network dismantled in Bulgaria
  3. Inflation negative in eurozone in April
  4. EU economy registers 0.5% growth in first quarter
  5. Eurovision says No to Kosovo, Palestine, IS flags
  6. EU to decide on future of tobacco agreement 'soon'
  7. Russia blames Sweden for frosty relations
  8. UN chief warns of 'growing xenophobia' in Europe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Roundtable of IndustrialistsDigitising European Industry
  2. Counter BalanceParliament Gets Tough on Control EU Bank's Funds
  3. ICRCSyria: Aleppo on the Brink of Humanitarian Disaster
  4. CESIWorld Day For Health and Safety at Work: Public Sector Workers in The Focus
  5. EFABasque Peace Process-Arnaldo Otegi Visits the European Parliament
  6. EscardioChina Pays Price of Western Lifestyle With Soaring Childhood Obesity
  7. Centre Maurits CoppetiersThe Existence of a State is a Question of Fact, Not a Question of Law
  8. Martens CentreJoin Us at The Event: Prospects For EU Enlargement After 2019
  9. ICRCSyria: Aid for Over 120,000 People Arrives in Besieged Town Near Homs
  10. Counter BalanceHighway to Hell: European Money Fuelling Controversial Infrastructure Projects
  11. EPSUResponds To Reported €300 Million McDonald’s Tax Bill in France
  12. Access NowAcademics and Privacy Groups Ask Obama to Reject Anti-encryption Law

Latest News

  1. EU roaming charge cut enters UK referendum campaign
  2. EU fiscal rules, migrants and Belgium's trick
  3. EU should call out Bangladesh on workers' rights
  4. Kosovo: Living in a ghetto on the EU fringe
  5. War crimes law poisons Serbia accession talks
  6. Italy and Austria try to calm tensions on Alpine pass
  7. French MPs call to lift Russia sanctions
  8. EU sides with embattled Greek PM in bailout talks