Delaying EU settlement rules ‘reinforces Israeli intransigence’

The EU’s settlement guidelines, if implemented, could be the first step in showing Israel that there are consequences for its occupation and illegal settlement building, and actually push both sides toward a resolution to the conflict.

Delaying EU settlement rules 'reinforces Israeli intransigence'
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton with PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: GPO/Avi Ohayun)

Since the EU announced new guidelines regarding its activity in settlements in July, Israel and most recently, the United States, have pushed back against their implementation. On Monday, a group of former senior European officials penned a letter to EU foreign ministers urging them to stand tough against the pressure and implement the regulations as planned.

The regulations, which would limit the EU’s financial and academic involvement with Israeli entities operating beyond the Green Line, represent a significant development despite their limited tangible impact. The directive is one of the first serious consequences Israel is facing – in recent years – for its continued illegal settlement activity, and ongoing occupation.

Read the new EU settlement guidelines

As a financial consequence for a political decision, the EU directive could arguably be the first step toward a slow-to-arrive sanctions campaign against Israel and its occupation. It does not fit into the more serious and directed South African sanctions model as it is neither punitive, either to Israel’s leadership or to its economy at large, nor does it demand any specific change. But Europe’s message is clear: our patience is running thin and the days of business as usual are over.

Israel, of course, got the message. It is fighting tooth and nail against the regulations, both in direct negotiations with the EU over how they are implemented (either a delay or a freeze) and by enlisting the U.S. to pressure the EU politically in order to delay their implementation.

This is at least the second time this year that Israel has enlisted the U.S. to put the brakes on an EU move that could damage its settlement enterprise and the settler economy. (It should be noted, as explained here, that the Israel-proper and settler economies are inexorably intertwined, making the implementation of such regulations difficult at best.) Earlier this year, at Israel’s behest, Washington demanded the EU delay implementing the labeling of settlement products.

Why, you ask, would the EU even consider shelving two of its most daring and long-coming diplomatic policy tools in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

In the name of peace, of course.

But the likelihood that keeping pressure off Israel will help usher in a just and lasting peace is about as likely as Israel agreeing of its own volition to all Palestinian demands regarding borders, Jerusalem and refugees – it ain’t happening.

Dismissing the notion out of hand, the former EU officials wrote in their letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and all of the Union’s foreign ministers that it is settlements that are an obstacle to peace, not pressure on Israel.

[The guidelines’] strict application serves to re-iterate that the EU does not recognize and will not support settlements and other illegal facts on the ground that increasingly dictate a unilateral reality inimical to a two-state agreement. It is these facts on the ground, not the guidelines, which threaten to make a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible. (Emphasis mine)

If there is any hope at all left for a negotiated two-state solution – regardless of whether it is even the right solution to pursue – there must be some semblance of mutual benefit to both sides. At the moment, Israel has little to gain from compromise. The occupation bears no net cost for Israel. Contrarily, it is profitable.

Only if the international community puts actual pressure or even levies the threat of sanctions, diplomatic isolation or consumer boycotts against Israel will the Jewish state have something to gain from compromising in peace negotiations: the lifting of those sanctions and punitive measures.

Until then, peace talks are nothing more than two unequal powers sitting at a table, with one party (Israel) continuing to attempt imposing its will on the other (the Palestinians). It is possible to reach an “agreement” under such conditions, but without much more equal standing – and motivation – there is no chance of a just peace that actually puts an end to the conflict.

In their letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and all Union foreign ministers, former EU foreign policy chief and NATO secretary-general Javier Solano and the former foreign and prime ministers of five EU states (members of the European Eminent Persons Group) wrote:

A delay or suspension of the guidelines won’t help achieve [a negotiated two-state solution]. On the contrary, it would undermine the negotiations by alienating the Palestinians and by reinforcing Israel’s intransigence. In addition, it would damage the EU’s credibility and erode its vital foundations as a law-based community.

Indeed, if the EU acquiesces and does anything but implement the new settlement regulations as planned, it will be sending a clear message to Israel: that it can continue to do as it pleases with impunity, easily deflecting any international pressure to follow international law and end the occupation. It sends a message that the EU will even ignore its own laws in order to accommodate Israeli intransigence.

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