Israel is retaliating back at the European Union for issuing guidelines against the areas beyond the 1967 borders. On Friday, July 26, 2013 Israel prevented European Union workers from entering the West Bank for projects to aid Palestinians. Israel’s defense ministry has instructed military officials to prevent the European Union from further entering the areas for any aid programs.
On Thursday, July 25, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon issued orders to General Eitan Dangot the head of the civilian military division COGAT and Israel Defense Force (IDF) officials that they prevent EU officials from entering area C. Area C in the West Bank is fully under Israeli civilian and military control, Ya’alon in his capacity as defense minister has ultimate control over the region. Ya’alon’s order consists of; “Meetings between Dangot’s and EU representatives were cancelled, projects and donations frozen, and requests to renew permits granted to EU officials and Palestinians for travel in the West Bank and to Gaza were rejected.” Ya’alon supposedly stated that “It’s inconceivable the EU acts the way it does and we would just accept it.” The orders only apply to the EU itself and not EU member countries.
Ya’alon is a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and is known as a hardliner within the party. His actions however, are in line with Netanyahu’s as Israel announced they would retaliate to the guidelines. Netanyahu denounced the guidelines when they were announced two weeks ago stating that it is “an external diktat about our borders,” that “will be decided upon only in direct negotiations between the sides.”
Israel implemented these resistance measures without formally notifying the EU. On Friday, July 26, Maja Kocijancic, the spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement: “The EU is concerned by reports in the Israeli media that the Israeli Minister of Defense has announced a number of restrictions affecting EU activities supporting the Palestinian people. We have not received any official communication from the Israeli authorities. Our delegations on the spot are seeking urgent clarifications.”
The European Union actions are tantamount to approving, legitimizing and endorsing the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. An Israeli official speaking to the press gave insight into the reasons behind Israel’s retaliation based on the EU guidelines which “sanction or boycott the settlements.” Continuing the official said; “From our standpoint we cannot just ignore this or treat spitting in our face as though it is rain.”
The restriction will affect a number of EU programs in the area including a police training program for Palestinian Authority police officers, a waste removal program, and an infrastructure program in area C. As well blocking the EU will affect their aid program to 150,000 Palestinians living the area.
On July 16, Israel was dealt an economic blow when the European Union announced to the press that it will no longer give funding, cooperate or do business with any Israeli business that is situated beyond the 1967 borders, and was ordering all member states to comply. The EU first published their decision on June 30. They also announced they would issue the formal guidelines in their journal on Friday July 19, 2013 on the matter, which comes into effect on January 1, 2014. These guidelines were one of the deciding factors that forced Netanyahu to agree to renewed peace talks with the Palestinians.
A senior Israeli official commented; “This is the first time such an official, explicit guideline has been published by the European Union bodies. Until today there were understandings and quiet agreements that the Union does not work beyond the Green Line [the pre-1967-war border]; now this has become a formal, binding policy.”
The new guidelines will affect every community beyond the 1967 borders making them ineligible for any funding, grants, prizes or loans that the EU awards. The areas beyond the EU’s green line are those beyond the 1967 Six-Day War borders, which consist of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. There are over 200 settlements within the boundaries that the EU was excluding from economic aid; it would an economic disaster for their businesses. Additionally, the EU is not allowing anything made in the areas beyond the 1967 borders to be labeled made in Israel.
Mark Regev the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stated at the time; “This is a mistake, it is counterproductive, it does not serve the cause of peace and it is not fair to single Israel out while the EU does not do this in any other place on the planet. Ultimately, the issue of settlements will be resolved in peace talks with the Palestinians that we hope will start soon.”
As well a senior Israeli official stated “We can’t accept the guidelines as they are now. They are imposing things we cannot accept.” The official called the position Israel has taken in opposition to the EU, “the European War.”
The new limits on economic aid stem from the EU view of international law which states Jewish settlements beyond the green line are illegal, and according to a Dec. 2012 decision by all EU foreign ministers; “all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton clarified their view on the issue; “Today the EU published a document that reiterates the long-held position that bilateral agreements with Israel do not cover the territory that came under Israel’s administration in June 1967.”
The EU believed Israel would not retaliate and they were compensating Israel by blacklisting and declaring on Monday, July 22, the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and imposing sanctions on it, as an olive branch after issuing the guidelines. However, a senior Israeli official stated there is no relation between the two, and that “They don’t see these guidelines as some tough measure they need to compensate for to maintain their relationship with Israel. There is no quid pro quo.” The Hezbollah relates to the EU’s policy towards the Syrian conflict.
The EU created the guidelines, because they wanted to push Israel back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians, especially along the terms the Palestinians were demanding. Israel however, had stated the guidelines would be detrimental to even restarting to the peace process, they were the opposite and in fact pushed Israel faster to negotiations. Additionally, the EU were trying to ensure that the negotiations would based on the 1967 borders which the Palestinians had continually demanded be a precondition to restarting peace talks. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton however, denies that their objective was to “prejudge the outcome of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.” However, the timing appears opportunistic.
No matter what the EU officially claims, the guidelines did partially forced Netanyahu to agree to the negotiations because he was worried about the economic ramifications on Israel and the settlements. Israel relies on trade with the European Union, which consists of 40 percent of their trade. Netanyahu was also worried how this could affect his coalition or the public’s support of his government.
Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor stated on Friday, July 19, that “Israel rejects the attempt by the European Commission to coerce positions on issues, which belong at the Israeli- Palestinian negotiations table. Israel’s borders will not be determined by European Commission guidelines but by negotiations between the concerned parties.” Palmor concluded; “It would have been preferable if the energy put in drafting these guidelines had been invested in peace-promoting measures.”
Upon hearing of the economic sanctions, Netanyahu phoned United States Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to call European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to get the EU to retract the sanctions on Israel’s settlements. Kerry phoned, but relayed to Netanyahu that it was a “warning sign” that the EU wants Israel to head back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians. Netanyahu also spoke to six European leaders and the British, French and German envoys to Israel in an attempt to get the guidelines retracted before their publication.
Kerry threatened Netanyahu that the sanctions would be worse if Israel failed to reach a peace agreement. Kerry also stated that “Israel needs to look hard at this initiative, which promises Israel peace with 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations – a total of 57 nations that are standing and waiting for the possibility of making peace with Israel.”
The United States also benefitted from the Palestinians elation over the EU guidelines on Israel, Palestinians President Mahmoud Abbas thought it vindicated their position on the settlements so much so that Kerry believed he could force Abbas to remove the settlement freeze from the list of preconditions for the restart of peace negotiations.
John Kerry arrived in the Middle East for his sixth trip to the region on July 16, with the intention of renewing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry realizing he could not pressure Netanyahu very much based on Israel firm stance against the 1967 borders, opted not to visit Israel during this trip and instead head to Jordan for meeting with the Palestinians. Kerry decided he would just phone Netanyahu to negotiate during this trip.
Abbas however was steadfast that he wanted the pre-1967 Yom Kippur War borders, which would leave the country too narrow in the center and virtually indefensible, which was the basis for Netanyahu’s and a majority of Israelis disapproval of those borders.
Kerry instead chose to push Israel on releasing prisoners to bring the talks about; Netanyahu was more flexible on releasing the terrorists than agreeing to the 1967 borders or a settlement construction freeze. On Thursday evening July 18, United States President Barack Obama phoned Netanyahu to convince him to restart negotiations. According to the White House statement released after the call; “The president encouraged Prime Minister Netanyahu to continue to work with Secretary Kerry to resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible.” Netanyahu agreed to release prisoners and resume the talks.
The Secretary of State promised the Palestinians the 1967 borders with land swaps, even though he knew Israel was adamantly against them. Kerry put pressure on Abbas to agree with the prisoner release and threatened him that if does not give up the preconditions the fact the peace talks failed again will be the Palestinians fault, and the United States would cut off vital funding to them. The Arab League already agreed with Kerry’s proposal for renewed peace talks on Wednesday, July 17, which Kerry used to force both sides back to the table.
Kerry threatening both sides about the ramifications of not agreeing, this coupled with the EU guidelines being forced upon Israel led to the agreement for the resumption of peace talks and then Kerry’s announcement on Friday, July 19, that Israel and Palestinians are resuming peace talks.
Fear of further sanctions also prompted Netanyahu to agree to the peace talks precondition of releasing 104 “heavyweight prisoners” convicted of terrorist attacks and murders of Israelis prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords, including 24 Israeli Arabs. The prisoners have been serving between 19 and 30 years in prison. The Prime Minister knew that that if he did not agree or if his cabinet would not pass the unpopular measure, he would have to agree to a settlement construction freeze. Netanyahu knew if the talks did not resume, because of Israel’s refusal, the Palestinians would have sought independence at the United Nation or would have gone to the international court to get their recognition. The EU meanwhile would have further increased their sanctions against the settlements. The peace talks protect Israel from further complications.
The EU’s actions will only have the opposite affect the more resistance they show the less Israel will compromise with land beyond those borders, especially the West Bank. Israel will probably never give in to the 1967 borders and that the final vote on any proposed peace deal with the Palestinians rests on the Israeli public as part of the new referendum bill being passed. The EU and the world will have to realize there are areas beyond the 1967 borders from the Golan Heights to East Jerusalem to the permanent West Bank Jewish settlements will always remain a part of Israel, fighting it will lead to more resistance in the long run with less of chance for a peace deal to be made.
Full text of the European Union’s settlement guidelines
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.