Wake-Up Call?

07.16.13

Israel's Predictable Response To The E.U.

The response of the Israeli political leadership when it comes to European foreign policy on Israel follows a totally predictable formula: don’t bother to take into account the specifics of a news story, but if it involves the Europeans, point the finger of blame elsewhere, or divert attention to other, more pressing global issues. But under no circumstances deal with the content. Today was no different. News broke of a new European guideline, accepted on June 30th and to be published Friday, that will come into effect next year that forbids "any funding, cooperation, awarding of scholarships, research funds or prizes" to entities over the green-line. The guidelines apply to institutional E.U. activities, but also constitute non-binding recommendations that any E.U. country singing an agreement with Israel should include a clause that states that, as the settlements are not a part of Israel, they are not subject to the agreement.

The guideline has already been rebuked by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Yair Laipd, half the Labor party in Israel, as well as other members of the Likud party and Habayit Hayhehudi. The overwhelming criticism is that it gives Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas a further excuse not to get back around the table, as it proves Europe will just force concessions on Israel regardless of Palestinian behavior. Yuval Steinitz, the finance minister in the last government, who admitted on a radio interview whilst still in office that "during the current government's term, we doubled the budgets [allocated] to Judea and Samaria. We did it with a low profile" with the government carrying out the move quietly so "elements in Israel and abroad" would not try to prevent it. But today, now in the position of intelligence minister, he accused Europe of "double standards."

A quick scroll down Facebook and Twitter feeds gives you a sense of how the news has been received, with significant numbers stating their outrage that on all days to receive this news, how dare it be on Tisha Ba’av, a day when we remember the destruction of the temples. Perhaps in years to come, this E.U. directive can be added to the Wikipedia page of other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people on Tisha Ba’av, alongside the withdrawal from Gush Katif in Gaza (which apparently is worthy a place on the list of calamities next to the mass deportation of Jews to death camps from the Warsaw ghetto). Dani Dayan, the man heralded as the leading light of the settler movement and the former chair of the Yesha council tweeted, "How will selection be done on youth delegations? A German will say: Tel Aviv to the right, EJlm to the left? Or will it be a Polish job."

The remarkable thing is that amongst all these critics, none have suggested that there should even be a cursory glance at Israel’s own behavior as a reason for the directive, or that there may be genuine grievance from Europe that settlements might be an Israeli-made problem to finding a resolution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.  

Of course, the critics will argue that the guideline apportions blame on the failure to find a resolution only on Israel, and that it inflates the problem of settlements when in fact the real issue is Palestinian intransigence. Furthermore, the policy just goes to prove how out of touch the Europeans are with the reality on the ground. At least Europe will be in the good company of Yuval Diskin, the last director of the Shin Bet, whose op-ed last week suggested that the nails of the coffin of the two-state solution were being sunk a little deeper with each new settler over the green-line.  

But how about the critics put themselves in the shoes of those responsible for the European Union for a moment? How would they ensure that European money is being spent in accordance with European foreign policy, which dictates settlements are illegal? Furthermore, as I have suggested elsewhere, shouldn’t we see all of this in the context of the millions of dollars of investment pouring into Israel, from European countries, particularly the U.K.?

And, whilst we are on the subject of the use of double standards: when politicians or opinion formers compare Israeli government policy to acts akin to Nazism or ethnic cleansing, we are the first ones to (rightly) point out how wrong and offensive that comparison is (take a look at the outrage around a comment recently made in the U.K. parliament by MP Bob Russell, which inferred a parallel between the Holocaust and the Palestinian experience). So where is the communal outrage at the comparison of E.U. policy on settlements to a Nazi selection process, or to the Nuremberg laws?

The Rabbis of the Talmud blamed the loss of the second temple on the behavior of the Jewish people and their inability to fight extremism from within. Maybe the E.U. directive will appear in that Wikipedia list. But if Yuval Diskin is right, the loss of the two-state solution will be recorded in the annals of history as the Jewish people’s inability to "take advantage of what may be the last opportunity to extricate ourselves from the deadly clutches of our conflict with the Palestinians, clutches which we have tethered to ourselves."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the timing of the E.U. guidelines' release and implementation dates and, based on errant initial news accounts, gave the impression that the guidelines were binding on E.U. member countries. The guidelines only apply to E.U. programs themselves, and are non-binding on member states' activities. The article now reflects this information.