By Ramzy Baroud
Europe is different, as we are often reminded. The general wisdom is unlike the United States' unconditional support for Israel. European countries tend to be more balanced in their approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Their politicians are less receptive to being bought and sold by pro-Israeli lobbies. Their media is far more inclusive in their coverage - unlike the staunchly one-sided US mainstream media that, at times, are far more pro-Israel than Israeli media itself. While one must concede that no single country's foreign policy is an exact carbon copy of another, there is little evidence that set the European Union (EU) apart as a platform of evenhandedness and political sensibility. Unlike the United States however, European bias is far more inconspicuous, and purposely so.
No other issue highlights European inconsistency, hypocrisy and even self-defeating policies as that of the EU stance regarding the illegal Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. All the firm statements about the EU's commitment to international law pertaining to the illegality of the settlements, all the warnings that the ever-encroaching colonial structures impede any chances - if any exist - of a two-state solution, and all the rest, are no more than declared policies that stand in almost complete contradiction to reality on the ground.
Not only does the EU do little to show real resolve in discouraging the growth of the settlements - which now occupy nearly 42 percent of the total size of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and most of their natural resources - but, in brazenly direct ways, it actually funds the growth of these very settlements. The oddity is that the EU does so while continuing to be a major funder of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and tireless advocate of the two-state solution.
But how can the EU advocate the very 'solution' that is itself effectively involved in its demise? Mere hypocrisy - discrepancy between rhetoric and action, or is the EU"s attitude part of a decided foreign policy agenda that is much greater than the political will of individual countries?
Facts and numbers unmistakably demonstrate EU complicity, complacency and direct investment in the Israeli colonial project. In a new report entitled: "Trading Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements", twenty-two NGOs expose a most revealing European duplicity. The NGOs included major organizations such as Christian Aid and the International Federation for Human Rights.
"The most recent estimate of the value of EU imports from settlements provided by the Israeli government to the World Bank is $300m (€230m) a year; this is approximately fifteen times the annual value of EU imports from Palestinians," the report showed. "With more than four million Palestinians and over 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the occupied territory, this means the EU imports over 100 times more per settler than per Palestinian."
Europe is Israel's largest trade partner, followed by the United States. Without such major trade routes, the Israeli economy is likely to suffer the consequences of Israeli government policies. Moreover, the amount cited above is likely much larger since much of Israeli products originating in the occupied territories are marketed under the 'Made in Israel' label, simply because many settlements-based companies have branches in Israel. A case in point is SodaStream, which produces an at-home carbonation device. The vast majority (over 70 percent) of its products are sold in European countries, despite the fact that the manufacturing of the product takes place in Ma'ale Adumim, a Jewish settlement built illegally over Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and constantly in a state of expansion. Companies based in illegal settlements receive generous tax breaks and other incentives, as in using 'Jewish-only' roads, which Palestinians are not allowed to use, although the roads are constructed on their land. "Because the company also maintains a factory in Israel," wrote Eline Gordts in the Huffington Post, it can sell its products under the label 'Made in Israel'." Such strategy can be successful in avoiding the formality of branding products made in Jewish settlements as such, which is applied by two European countries.
The EU has little quarrel with being a major market that keeps the settlements prosperous and economically competitive. It is in fact doing its utmost to integrate the Israeli economy into the larger European market. The latest of such efforts took place on October 23 when the European Parliament ratified the EU-Israel Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance (ACAA). The ratification is barely an isolated gesture, for it is part of ceaseless efforts that go back to the 1995 Association Agreement, which supposedly meant to reward Israel for its peacemaking efforts and help it break away from its regional isolation. Despite Israel's incessant efforts at colonizing much of the West Bank, continued 'legal' and physical isolation of occupied East Jerusalem, and protracted siege on Gaza, the EU has done little to underscore any objection to Israel's violation of international law. "It is worth remembering," wrote Emanuele Scimia in Asia Times, "that on July 24 the European Council, the EU's decision-making body, already agreed to upgrade trade and diplomatic relations with Israel in more than 60 sectors."
Rife with contradictions, European countries continue to tread with the same odd logic of supporting settlements and criticizing them at the same time. Three European powers - Germany, Britain and France - joined forces from Berlin on Nov 6 criticizing Israel over its recent decision to permit the construction of over 1,200 units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
"Our clear expectation of all sides in the Middle East is that they refrain from anything that will make the resumption of negotiations more difficult," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said. He called Israel's settlement policy "a hindrance to the peace process." In fact, this is the tip of the iceberg because according to the NGOs report "over the past two years, settlement expansion has accelerated with more than 16,000 new housing units announced or approved." That policy is likely to continue with unprecedented ferocity since the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that settlements construction is the cornerstone of his policies, especially once he receives a new mandate following the upcoming elections.
The growth of the settlements is accompanied by a parallel destruction of "Palestinian structures - including those funded by European donor support." Neither is the EU actively defending its declared policies regarding settlements, nor is it taking any meaningful legal action against the systematic Israeli destruction of EU-funded projects in the occupied territories. Even worse, according to the report "some European-owned companies have invested in settlements and related infrastructure or are providing services to them. Cases that have been reported include G4S (UK/Denmark), Alstom (France), Veolia (France), and Heidelberg Cement (Germany) .."
European policies may seem irrational at the surface - as in, for example, Germany criticizing Israeli settlements, yet permitting Heidelberg Cement to profit from the occupation. But political absurdity is not exactly a trait of European politics, nor can such contradictions last for so long, if political incongruity was not itself the very policy that the EU wishes to pursue.
Indeed, the EU foreign policies regarding Palestine/Israel are different from those of the United States, while the latter is openly one-sided and 'unconditionally' so, the former is deviously complicit in ensuring the very occupation that it is supposedly trying to end.
Ramzy Baroud (ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story.
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