Campaigning for Palestinian Rights in Europe

The European Union (EU) evolved to become an important player in the Middle East’s power configurations and political dynamics. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, EU policy has been inconsistent and incoherent.

Despite many statements condemning Israel`s violations of international law, the EU continues to cooperate with Israel in various fields such as science and technology, transportation (Common Aviation Area), agriculture, satellite navigation (Galileo) and police services (EUROPOL). Granting such an explicit support despite numerous and internationally recognized Israeli violations of international law, the EU finds itself complicit in those violations. For example, beneficiaries of EU research grants and taxpayers’ money include Aerospace Industries (IAI), the state-owned manufacturer of Israeli drones and “battlefield solutions,” and Elbit, the company criticized for helping consolidate Israeli control over the occupied territories and provides surveillance technologies for the Separation Wall in the West Bank. Indeed, the EU and its Member States are failing to implement international law, promote the right to self-determination of Palestinians, utilize universal jurisdiction and comply with European law.

The failure of the international community to hold Israel accountable and of the EU and its Member States to comply with the relevant provisions of its own constitution – which reiterates the EU’s commitment to fundamental rights and freedoms – have prompted European civil society to step in and take action to bring about policy changes.

The European Coordination Committee for Palestine (ECCP) is the largest European civil society coalition advocating Palestinian rights composed of 46 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), unions and associations from 20 European countries. We work in close collaboration with a broad range of partners including Palestinian organizations, the global Palestine solidarity movement, and Israeli human rights organizations, namely: Anarchists Against the Wall, Boycott from Within and The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. The ECCP supports and signed on to the 2005 Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions call (BDS).

We aim to encourage the EU to adopt effective measures in order to ensure respect for Palestinian rights, adherence to international law and an end to impunity of Israeli violations and crimes. Thus we pressure parties to factor Palestinians’ rights when deliberating existing and proposed agreements between the EU and Israel. We do so by attending committee meetings; providing accurate information to Members of the European Parliament and other EU functionaries; publishing position statements for the wider public and EU bodies, the Ashton office and the media; launching popular campaigns to reduce collaboration of the EU with Israel; and promoting a culture of rights-accountability by organizing public hearings in European Parliament.

Specifically, our recent and ongoing campaigns targeting the EU include:

- Public campaign against Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) signed by EU and Israel in 2011. Together with thousands of NGOs who joined the campaign, campaigners and human rights defenders sent more than 50,000 messages to their Members of European Parliament;
- Suspension of the EU-Israeli Association Agreement, which grants Israel favorable tariffs for the export of products to the EU. Article two of the Agreement calls for suspension in the case of human rights abuses;
- An EU ban on settlement products and Israeli companies which export them. The July 2013 EU guidelines are an achievement and initial step in that direction (see below);
- Call for an EU arms embargo of Israel that is supported by the European Network Against Arms Trade;
- Campaign against G4S security contracts for EU buildings following an EU decision not to renew a previous G4S contract in April 2012;
- Campaigns against upgrading EU-Israeli economic relations and EU funding of Israeli research programs such as Horizon 2020 and particularly the inclusion of Israeli companies involved in the settlements or other violations of international law.

EU Funding Guidelines

In June 2013, the European Commission published its “Guidelines on the eligibility of Israeli entities and their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 for grants, awards and financial instruments funded by the EU from 2014 onwards” in the EU Official Journal. The document states that any future agreement between Israel and the EU must include a special provision clearly affirming that all Israeli settlements in the lands occupied in 1967 are not part of the state of Israel and are not, therefore, included in the agreements between the EU and Israel.

The new Guidelines exclude any Israeli entity with activity in occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories from participating in EU financial instruments such as loans. Among those excluded from receiving loans from the European Investment Bank will be major Israeli banks including Bank Hapoalim, Mizrahi Tefahot Bank and Bank Leumi because they all operate illegally in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories, including by having branches in illegal Israeli settlements.

For the first time, the EU has adopted a concrete position stating that companies or institutions active in Israeli settlements will not be eligible for the Union’s grants. It took them long enough.

The Guidelines are not binding for Member States. Rather, they constitute recommendations. Nevertheless, if implemented academic and governmental institutes, as well as many Israeli and international companies, may cease to enjoy grants from the EU as long as they maintain their activities in the occupied territories.

While the Guidelines are an important step in terms of EU policy towards Israel, the EU will remain deeply complicit with Israeli apartheid even if the Guidelines are fully implemented. The EU-Israel Association Agreement grants Israel preferential trade arrangements and participation in EU programs. The fact that this agreement remains in place despite Israel`s ongoing violations of human rights of Palestinians shows EU acquiescence and contribution to further Israeli impunity. Also, the new guidelines will not prevent EU grants being awarded to Israeli military companies and will not prevent funding being awarded to Israeli universities, despite their involvement in military research and weapons development projects.

Coming into effect on the first of January 2014 these measures are extremely belated considering that the EU has always held the Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories as illegitimate, breaching international law and contravening UN and EU decisions.

Despite such decisions and long held position on the illegality of settlements, the EU continues to import products from Israeli settlements. Even more surprising is the fact that two weeks before publishing the Guidelines, on 5 July 2013, EU approved a grant to Ahava – an Israeli firm making cosmetics in a settlement in the occupied West Bank and contributing to the crime of pillaging. Under the EU’s agreement with the firm, Ahava will coordinate the SuperFlex project on skincare research. More than €6 million ($8 million) of the scheme’s budget comes from EU funds.

The guidelines themselves are not nearly enough to influence Israel to halt settlement activities, or even to limit their expansion, but what is important is the fact that under the pressure of civil society organizations the EU acknowledged the illegality of Israel’s regime of occupation against the Palestinian people and to end some aspects of its deep complicity in maintaining this illegal system

Before the resumption of ‘peace talks’ the EU was developing guidelines for businesses including product labeling scheduled to be published at the end of 2013. At the moment, the EU`s official position is that they will not adopt new positions before the end of the negotiations.

Towards a Boycott

Contrary to accounts in mainstream European media, the Guidelines do not constitute a boycott of Israeli settlements. In practice, these recommendations require all bodies operating within Israel and outside the 1967 borders to draw a distinction between the settlements and Israel. Although in their statements EU officials reaffirm their stance against imposing sanctions on Israel, in March 2013 we witnessed 23 Members of European Parliament from different political parties call on chief of EU foreign policy Catherine Ashton to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement. In their letter they wrote: “The ongoing authorization for settlement activity of the Israeli government, as well as several human rights abuses that have been extensively documented by the United Nations and international human rights organizations, are in breach of Israel’s commitments under article 2 of the Agreement.”

Even more interesting, the letter was initiated by Members of European Parliament from the ALDE group (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) who last year voted in favor of the EU-Israel ACAA Agreement (Agreements on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of industrial products).

Civil society and human rights organizations together with BDS campaigners were working hard over the recent years to inform and convince EU officials about the EU`s complicity in Israel`s violation of international law and Palestinian human rights. In particular, it was very important to provide political advisers and officials at the Israel and Palestine desks in EU institutions with recent reports and analyses from Palestinian organizations like Al Haq and others, showing the impact of the EU – Israel trade agreements on human rights in Palestine. On the other hand, we cooperated with lawyers who helped us convince the EU representatives that its ongoing support to Israeli and international companies involved in the occupation is in contradiction to the EU`s own law. Direct actions and demonstrations against EU`s cooperation with companies profiting from Israel`s occupation like G4S, Veolia and others, demonstrates that EU`s ongoing support to those companies will be opposed by civil society organizations.

Grassroots civil society pressure is forcing the EU to acknowledge its legal responsibility to end ties with Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid against the Palestinian people and its deep complicity in maintaining the illegal system.

One of the challenges for civil society organizations is to pressure the EU to implement their own legislation into the agreements with Israel and military companies that profit from the occupation. Guidelines should also be adopted in order to bring an end to the EU policy of awarding research funding to Israeli military companies, such as Elbit Systems, that ‘test’ their systems on Palestinians. Israeli military companies provide the weaponry and technology that enable Israel to commit atrocities and daily violations of human rights. Also in the area of trade, for example, mere labeling of products from the illegal settlements is not enough. Products from the colonies should be prohibited from being marketed in Europe. The next step for the grassroots and civil society organizations should be a European campaign calling on the EU to implement a ban on settlement products. Moreover, we have yet to see how the Guidelines will be implemented by the EU.

As negotiations on Israel’s participation in the 70 billion euro Horizon 2020 research funding program continue, Israel and its supporters have been pulling out all of the stops to pressure the EU to postpone or not apply the Guidelines. In protest a group of 51 Members of the European Parliament wrote to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in the latest of a series of calls on the EU not to water down the new Guidelines that prevent the EU from recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In their letter, the Members of European Parliament from across the political spectrum explain that they, “feel strongly that Israeli settlements should not benefit from European taxpayers’ money.”

At the moment it is important for us to put pressure on the Members of European Parliament and European Commission to ensure that the Guidelines are fully and correctly implemented. Furthermore we must monitor the upcoming EU-Israel Agreements to act on schedule against any upgrade in EU-Israel economic relations.

Civil society, including BDS campaigners, will have to continue playing an important role in monitoring the Guidelines’ implementation and pressuring for all ineligible Israeli entities to be excluded from receiving EU money. We should also work to compel the EU to recognize that Israeli apartheid is the system that applies on both sides of the 1967 Green Line. Ultimately, the EU has a responsibility to acknowledge the human rights abuses committed by Israeli public and private entities against Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinian refugees by reducing its complicity and adopting binding instruments to effectively ban any product manufactured, grown or packed in Israeli settlements from the EU market and ending all research funding of Israeli military companies.

 

Aneta Jerska  is the coordinator for the European Coordination Committee for Palestine and the Polish-Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Article was published in Badil`s Al-Majdal

Here you can read an article in French