Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Israeli insults rewarded by EU embrace

Israel has directed a stream of insults towards its Western allies and protectors in the past 12 months, and has been rewarded with short-lived rebukes followed by an even closer embrace.

A group of foreign ministers representing the EU’s five largest states – including William Hague - was told to stay away by Israel in September because they were going to urge Binyamin Netanyahu’s government to extend the 10 month moratorium on building settlements in the West Bank.

Within a few days of this snub, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, recommended that Israel should be designated a new “strategic” partner for the Union. The fact that Israel had once again bombed Gaza that same week, killing three civilians, did not appear to trouble her.

Ashton’s proposal is designed to put Israel on a similar ranking with far bigger economies like the US, Japan and China in terms of how it is prioritised by EU officialdom. Her move follows last year’s acknowledgement by Javier Solana, her predecessor as head of EU diplomacy, that no country outside the European continent had closer relations with the Union than Israel. According to Solana, Israel’s participation in various EU-run programmes has made it a de facto member state of the Union.

The insult to the foreign ministers follows the murder of the leading Hamas figure, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was shot dead in a Dubai hotel in January by assassins presenting themselves as British, Irish, German and French citizens. After a British investigation concluded that there were “compelling reasons” to believe that Mossad, the Israeli secret service, had used fraudulent versions of ID cards belonging to Britons living in Israel, an Israeli diplomat was expelled from the UK.

The expulsion has turned out to be tokenistic. The European countries whose passport systems were abused had an opportunity to censure Israel in a more meaningful fashion when a vote on its bid to join the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development took place in May. None of them were prepared to exercise their veto so Israel was admitted into this elite club for industrialised countries, receiving a “very significant seal of approval,” as Israel’s finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, observed.

Then there was the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla when Israeli commandos shot dead nine peace activists on board a ship belonging to Turkey, a country engaged in formal, if protracted, talks aimed at its accession to the EU. Although some EU states condemned the attack, none of them took any concrete measures against Israel.

This pattern echoes the response of US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who accused the Israeli government of delivering an “insult to the United States” when it announced the planned construction of new settlements in East Jerusalem while vice president Joe Biden was visiting the Middle East in March.

While her comments might have upset some of the wealthy Zionists who had previously bankrolled her election campaigns, Clinton soon resumed her usual practice of fawning to neocons. Later the same month she told the annual conference of AIPAC, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby group in Washington, that her devotion to Israel was “rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever.”

Why is Israel being treated with kid gloves by our governments? Privately, Brussels officials say that the EU needs to be on good terms with Israel because it is the kind of hi-tech economy that they wish Europe to emulate. The same officials are less willing to recognise that many of the Israeli innovations they profess to admire were developed through cruel experiments, in which the Palestinian people were treated as lab rats.

Israel is the leading foreign participant in the EU’s multi-annual “framework programme” for scientific research, which has been allocated €53 billion (£44.2 billion) between 2007 and 2013. Among the Israeli firms pocketing EU grants are Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries, the manufacturers of pilotless drones – also known as unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) – that were used to inflict terror on civilians during Israel’s three-week bombardment of Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009

Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians meets the definition of genocide enshrined in a 1948 UN convention: a crime designed to destroy a national, ethnic or religious group by causing serious physical or psychological harm on members of that group or by imposing intolerable conditions of life on them.

Under the terms of an “association agreement” with Israel that came into effect in 2000, the EU is legally obliged to sanction Israel for systematic abuses of human rights. Not only has the Union refused to honour that commitment, it is actively supporting the arms companies that profit from the murder of innocents. It is no exaggeration to conclude that the EU has become an accomplice to genocide.

·First published by Palestine News, magazine of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Autumn 2010

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