Sunday

19th Nov 2017

Opinion

Six EU double standards on Israel

  • Gaza war damage: EU never says Palestinians have a right to fight back (Photo: zoriah)

Over the last few months, the Israeli government has stepped up its accusations that the EU employs a “double standard” in relation to Israel.

According to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “there’s a natural tendency in the EU establishment to single out Israel and treat it in ways that other countries are not being dealt with.” This double-standards allegation has become the key Israeli talking point with regard to Europe, repeated at every opportunity.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • EU, for first time ever, didn't "welcome" a new ICC member - Palestine (Photo: Coalition for the ICC)

So let us check the facts. Are the Israeli claims true? Does Europe really hold Israel to a different standard than other countries?

Yes: It turns out that Netanyahu is absolutely right. Europe does indeed apply double standards towards Israel - except that all of them happen to be to Israel's advantage rather than the other way around. Here are six examples.

Human rights

The EU has no subcommittee for human rights with Israel, although such bodies have been a standard component of the EU's relations with Mediterranean partner countries, from Morocco to Lebanon.

Years ago, the EU yielded to Israel's refusal and agreed instead to a mere informal working group on human rights.

Similarly, the EU-Israel action plan that has been in place for the last 10 years has the weakest human rights commitments of all EU action plans with neighbouring countries.

Although the EU has deeper relations with Israel than with any other country in the region, Israel’s human-rights issues have been given the lowest priority.

International Criminal Court

The EU strongly supports the International Criminal Court (ICC). It uses trade and development agreements with many countries to encourage them to join the Hague Court, and has withheld assistance from Sudan and South Sudan which have refused to join.

But in the case of Palestine, foremost EU states including the UK and France pressured president Mahmoud Abbas not to seek membership, which could lead to prosecution of both Israelis and Palestinians for war crimes.

At the time, they claimed that ICC involvement could undermine the (defunct) Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet the same governments have led efforts to bring other countries embroiled in conflict - Sudan, Libya and Syria - to the Court through the United Nations Security Council, and condemned Russia and China for blocking the referral in the Syrian case.

When Palestine eventually joined the ICC in April 2015, it was the first time that the EU did not issue a welcoming statement.

Sanctions

The EU applies sanctions to more than 30 countries around the world. Sanctions seem to have become the EU's default response to international challenges, with their use massively increasing in recent years.

But Israel is not on the list.

This is despite its well-known, large-scale violations of international law and human rights in the occupied territories, which are, moreover, making a peaceful two-state solution to the conflict practically impossible; expansion of settlements in the West Bank is just one example. Yet the EU does not apply even the mildest sanctions against those pushing for settlement expansion, or against extremist settlers who violently attack Palestinians and destroy their property.

The few measures that the EU has taken so far - such as differentiated labelling of settlement products - are not sanctions, as the Israeli press likes to describe them. They merely ensure correct application of existing EU law based on its non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the occupied Palestinian territory.

In contrast, to underscore its non-recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, the EU has imposed real, sweeping sanctions, including a ban on all trade with and investment in the peninsula.

Security

The EU often emphasises its commitment to Israel's security, but rarely mentions the security of the Palestinians. This is despite the fact that the latter have been suffering far greater levels of insecurity and much higher casualties during decades of conflict.

The EU affirms Israel's right to defend itself against Palestinian attacks but never says whether the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves against Israeli attacks, within the bounds of international law.

The EU also regularly calls on Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip to stop firing rockets and mortars on Israel, but not on Israel to curb its almost daily attacks, which also have been shown to violate international law.

In 2015, there were 35 attacks from Gaza that caused no Israeli injuries or damage. In the same year, Israeli forces conducted 56 raids into Gaza and opened fire on Gazans in over 600 cases, killing 25 people and injuring over 1,300.

These incidents often target civilians who pose no threat. Yet the latest EU Council conclusions on the conflict once again only addressed rocket fire by Palestinian militants.

Quartet principles

As part of the Middle East Quartet, the EU demands that any Palestinian government recognise Israel, accept previous agreements and renounce violence.

In 2006 and 2007, the EU financially boycotted Palestinian governments that included Hamas as they did not commit to these three principles. The EU's stance contributed to the disastrous political split between Gaza and the West Bank that lasts until today.

Yet neither the Quartet nor the EU have demanded that the Israeli government adhere to the same principles. In fact, Israel would hardly pass the test: it has not recognised Palestine, does not abide by key elements of past agreements including the Oslo Accords or the Roadmap, and frequently resorts to violence to sustain the occupation.

But rather than holding Palestinian and Israeli governments to the same principles, the Quartet has employed them as one-sided demands.

Nuclear weapons

Europe tolerates Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons arsenal and its evasion of international inspections.

In fact, it was France and Britain that secretly helped Israel to get “the bomb” in the 1950s and 60s. Germany still provides Israel with government-subsidised submarines, while reportedly knowing that Israel arms them with nuclear missiles.

Europeans often vote against international resolutions calling on Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which would open its nuclear facilities to inspections.

This stands in stark contrast to the immense pressure the EU put on Iran to curb its nuclear programme, notwithstanding the differences between the two cases.

Undeniably, Europeans - and Germans in particular - have a vast historical debt to the Jewish people, which factors into their stance on Israel's nuclear weapons. But it remains that there is a double standard in Israel's favour.

Redressing the imbalance

Some inconsistencies in foreign policy are inevitable - Israel is not the only area in which the EU is guilty of double standards. The reasons for Europe’s privileged treatment of Israel are multiple, and many of them are easy to understand: cultural affinity, historical guilt, sympathy for democracies, and admiration for cultural and scientific achievements (as well as organised pro-Israel lobbies).

Yet Europe has every reason to redress its imbalanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and be more even-handed. After all, as the Israeli government rightly says, the double standard “prevents the EU from being an honest broker in the conflict.”

And while there is no effective broker willing to hold both sides to the same standard, the very possibility of a peaceful solution is rapidly disappearing, promising more violence and instability on Europe’s doorstep and more fuel for global extremism in the decades to come.

Martin Konecny runs the European Middle East Project (EuMEP), a Brussels-based NGO

Israeli bulldozers demolish EU-funded buildings

Israeli bulldozers have demolished more than 20 buildings in Palestinian villages in the West Bank, including EU-funded structures, amid mounting European frustration.

Mind the gap: inequality in our cities

Minimum wages, 'living' wages and a universal basic income are all part of the ongoing mix to find ways to reduce social inequality across the EU.

EU's eastern partnership needs revival

A week before a summit with EU eastern neighbours, Sweden and Poland's foreign ministers propose "a way ahead" for the relationship that is more focused on people's needs.

News in Brief

  1. Bonn climate talks extend into Friday evening
  2. UK needs to move on Brexit by early December, Tusk says
  3. Puigdemont extradition decision postponed to December
  4. Ireland wants written UK guarantees to avoid hard border
  5. US did not obstruct climate talks, says German minister
  6. EU signs social declaration
  7. Puigdemont to be heard by Belgian judges
  8. Steep fall in migrants reaching EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  2. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  4. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  5. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  6. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  9. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  10. World Vision20 November: Exchange of Views at the EP on Children Affected by the Syria Crisis
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  12. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy

Latest News

  1. EU keeps former Soviet states at arm's length
  2. EU leaders make pledge on social issues after populist backlash
  3. EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK
  4. Germany slams Dutch call for more ambitious EU climate goal
  5. Mind the gap: inequality in our cities
  6. Climate activists 'disappointed' with EU at climate talks
  7. Davis outlines UK vision on Brexit in Berlin
  8. German coalition talks in near collapse

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  2. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersMale Business Leaders Gather in Copenhagen to Advance Gender Equality
  4. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened
  5. EU2017EEEstonia Anticipates More Digital Cooperation With Sweden
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina Launches Campaign to Protect IPR of Foreign Companies
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Condemns Attacks on Ruta Vanagaite and the Shredding of Her Books in Lithuania
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesDiscover the Future of the Bio-Based Economy. Register Now for the BBI Stakeholder Forum!
  9. European Free AllianceWelcome Catalonia!
  10. UNICEFGrowing Number of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in Greece in Need of Shelter
  11. Counter BalanceNature Destruction Cannot Be Compensated For, Say NGOs
  12. CES - Silicones EuropeSilicones - Enabling the Next Big Leap in Prosthetics and Health