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July 17, 2013 8:48 pm

Papers: EU ‘Earthquake’ Directive Underscores Europe’s Irrelevance in the Region

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The European Parliament in session. Photo: www.sikhsiyasat.net.

Analysts and pundits have continued to weigh in Tuesday on the European Union “Earthquake” directive that sent shock waves through Israel after it was revealed that the EU would issue new guidelines on EU business with Jews living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Two weeks ago, the EU issued the directive, disclosed to the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper yesterday, requiring all 28 European member states to ban all funding, collaboration, scholarships, research grants and awards to Israeli entities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The rule also requires that any future agreements signed with Israel must include a clause stating that the settlements are not part of the sovereign State of Israel and therefore are not part of said agreement. The directive goes into effect in 2014.

A senior Israeli official told Haaretz that the ruling was an “earthquake” which unprecedentedly turns “understandings and quiet agreements that the Union does not work beyond the Green Line” into “formal, binding policy.”

As the report reached Israel,  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an urgent cabinet meeting, following which he slammed the initiative, stating: “We will not accept any outside diktat about our borders.”

While Israeli officials reacted to the news with disappointment and confusion, today, the global news media weighed in on its significance.

Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post wrote that she wasn’t surprised by the EU’s position. In an Op-Ed, Rubin writes that the EU has a clear anti-Israel bias–a bias that makes it an otherwise insignificant player in the Middle East peace process: “This is an old story for the European Union — it strives for relevance but its anti-Israeli tendencies make it particularly unsuited to play any constructive role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

This conclusion was echoed by Israeli Knesset Member Silvan Shalom, who told the BBC: “Europeans are making a big mistake once again. They always would like to play a key role in the peace process but once again they are showing us that they cannot play a key role because they don’t have a balanced attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If they would like really to help the peace process, they should not come with those decisions and those ideas.”

“I would like to remind my friends the Europeans, that … the Israeli government in the past took many decisions to evacuate settlements and they didn’t need Europeans to show them what to do,” Shalom said.

Rubin also takes the U.S. to task for its silence, saying that the EU is a corrosive voice in the Israeli- Palestinian Arab conflict.

“If the United States made clear that such behavior is entirely unacceptable, some of the Israel bashing might stop. Whether at the United Nations or in direct conversations with our European ‘friends,’ this should be a topic of conversation. It is evidently not, so we naturally see the anti-Israel fervor increase.”

The Jerusalem Post similarly agreed with Rubin in an editorial, writing that the move shouldn’t come as unexpected, but arguing that it was more indicative of the mood of the “street” than of EU officials: “Many of the anti-settlement steps under consideration – from labeling settlement goods to the new guidelines restricting financial grants to entities operating outside the Green Line – are driven by the street.”

The Post agreed with Rubin, however, that the move can only have a negative impact on the peace process: “The irony is that these very steps, promoted by those who see themselves as peace advocates, could actually work contrary to moving the diplomatic process forward.”

The Post further writes that the stalled peace process risks falling dormant, as the new guidelines provide “a disincentive for the Palestinians to negotiate because of a belief that if they just wait long enough, the world, led by the Europeans, will get their solution imposed on Israel.”

Palestinian Authority officials met the news with mixed reactions.

“The EU has moved from the level of statements, declarations and denunciations to effective policy decisions and concrete steps which constitute a qualitative shift that will have a positive impact on the chances of peace,” Palestinian Authority Official Hanan Ashrawi, told the BBC.

But another senior Palestinian Authority official told Israel Hayom on Tuesday that many in Ramallah were dissatisfied with the European Union’s decision.

“For our part, we approached a number of [European] Union officials, in the [Palestinian] Authority and also in Israel, to try and prevent the decision or at least to keep it unofficial,” said the official, who declined to give his name. “It’s not just Israeli companies that are going to be hit economically, it’s also going to be disastrous economically and socially for the Palestinian community.”

Tablet magazine claims that despite the hubbub, the new guidelines really aren’t that significant: “Member states don’t have to abide by this,” an EU diplomat explained to the website. “It applies to EU-funded programs, and to EU programs as such. It doesn’t apply to national programs. So concretely, if France wants to fund the Ariel college, it can do it, and it’s not violating any European law.”

Furthermore, the EU diplomat said  “guidelines do not address trade, i.e. products originating in the settlements” and “explicitly exempt all Israeli national authorities, like ministries and government agencies.” For example, “the Israeli Authority for Antiquities, which is based in East Jerusalem, is not affected by this commission notice.”

Tablet reaches much the same conclusion as the Washington Post and the Jerusalem Post; the new guidelines are the EU’s largely symbolic attempt to send a message to the Israelis, no matter the resulting fallout.

“Bottom line,” writes Tablet, “these regulations hardly seem the diplomatic ‘earthquake’ some have called them, let alone ‘economic terrorism,’ as Naftali Bennett has dubbed them. Rather, they are a largely symbolic shot across the bow, making explicit what was already the EU’s unwritten policy, and reflecting growing frustration within Europe at Israel’s settlement practices.”

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