In theory, Europe and the US stand on opposite sides when it comes to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. While the US government has fully embraced the tragic status quo created by 53 years of Israeli military occupation, the EU continues to advocate a negotiated settlement that is predicated on respect for international law.
In practice, however, despite the apparent rift between Washington and Brussels, the outcome is essentially the same. The US and Europe are Israel’s largest trading partners, weapons suppliers and political advocates.
One of the reasons the illusion of an even-handed Europe has been maintained for so long lies in the Palestinian leadership. Politically and financially abandoned by Washington, the Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas has turned to the EU as its only possible savior. “Europe believes in the two-state solution,” PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said during a video discussion with the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs last week. Europe’s continued advocacy of the defunct two-state solution qualifies it to fill the massive gap created by Washington’s absence.
Shtayyeh called on EU leaders to “recognize the state of Palestine in order for us, and you, to break the status quo.” However, there are already 139 countries that recognize the state of Palestine. While that recognition is a clear indication that the world remains firmly pro-Palestinian, it changes little on the ground. What is needed is a concerted effort to hold Israel accountable for its violent occupation, as well as real action to support the Palestinians’ struggle. Not only has the EU failed in this regard, it is actually doing the exact opposite: Funding Israel, arming its military, and silencing its critics.
Listening to Shtayyeh’s words, one gets the impression that the top Palestinian official was addressing a conference of Arab, Muslim or socialist countries. “I call upon your parliament and your distinguished members of this parliament that Europe not wait for the American president to come up with ideas… We need a third party who can really remedy the imbalance in the relationship between an occupied people and an occupier country, that is Israel,” he said.
But is the EU qualified to be that third party? No. For decades, European governments have been an integral part of the US-Israel alliance. Just because the US administration has recently taken a sharp turn in favor of Israel, this should not allow Europe’s historical pro-Israel bias to be mistaken for pro-Palestinian solidarity.
In June, more than 1,000 European parliamentarians representing various political parties issued a statement expressing “serious concerns” about Donald Trump’s peace plan and Israel’s proposed annexation of nearly a third of the West Bank. The US Democratic Party, including some traditionally staunch supporters of Israel, was equally critical of the plan because, in its members’ minds, annexation would make the two-state solution impossible. However, just as the Democrats made it clear that a Joe Biden administration would not reverse any of Trump’s actions should he win next month’s election, European governments also said they would not take a single action to dissuade Israel, let alone punish it for its repeated violations of international law.
Lip service is pretty much all that ordinary Palestinians have obtained from Europe. The EU may have donated much money, but it has been largely pocketed by Abbas loyalists in the name of “state-building” and other fantasies. Tellingly, much of the imaginary Palestinian state infrastructure that has been subsidized by Europe in recent years has been blown up, demolished or confiscated by the Israeli military during its various wars and raids. But the EU has not punished Israel as a result and the PA has not stopped asking for more money to continue funding a non-existent state.
Not only has the EU failed to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing occupation and human rights violations, it is actually financing Tel Aviv too. According to Defense News, a quarter of Israel’s $7.2 billion of military exports in 2019 went to European countries. Moreover, the EU is Israel’s largest trading partner, accounting for a third of its total trade. This includes the bloc importing products made in illegal Israeli settlements.
Additionally, the EU labors to incorporate Israel into the European way of life through cultural and music contests, sports competitions and myriad other methods. While the EU possesses powerful tools that can be used to exact political concessions and enforce respect for international law, it opts to do very little.
Lip service is pretty much all that ordinary Palestinians have obtained from the EU.
Compare this with the ultimatum the EU gave the Palestinian leadership this month, linking its aid to the PA’s financial ties with Israel. In May, Abbas took the extraordinary step of considering all agreements with Israel and the US to be null and void. Effectively, this means that the PA will no longer be accountable for the stifling status quo that was created by the Oslo Accords, which have been repeatedly violated by Tel Aviv and Washington.
Severing ties with Israel also means that the PA refuses to accept nearly $150 million a month in tax revenues that Tel Aviv collects on its behalf. This Palestinian step, while long overdue, was necessary. Instead of supporting Abbas’ move, the EU criticized it, refusing to provide additional aid for Palestinians until he restores ties with Israel and accepts the tax money. According to Axios, Germany, France, the UK and even Norway led the charge on this.
Continuing to make references to the unachievable two-state solution, while arming, funding and doing more business with Israel, is the very definition of hypocrisy. The truth is that Europe should be held as accountable as the US in emboldening and sustaining the Israeli occupation of Palestine. However, while Washington is openly pro-Israel, the EU has played a cleverer game: Selling Palestinians empty words while selling Israel lethal weapons.
Source: This article is written by Ramzy Baroud, and it was first published on the the Arab News, along with the cover photo, captioned as Palestinian PM Mohammad Shtayyeh arrives for a cabinet meeting of the new Palestinian government, Ramallah, West Bank, April 15, 2019. (Reuters)