Writing on the Wall
The guidelines drawn up by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, requiring that any agreement or contract signed by an EU body or institution with Israel include a clause stating that the settlements are not part of the State of Israel and therefore are not part of the agreement, are an important turning point in the relations between Israel and Europe, and indeed – Israel and the world.
The guidelines, circulated to the E.U.’s 28 member states, and expected to be officially released on Friday and go into effect on January 1, are of little real importance to Israel’s political and economic stability. Yet looking from a broader perspective, they are a diplomatic earthquake, and the damage to Israel cannot be exaggerated. The directives reflect a shift in European policy to openly pressure Israeli decision makers into outlining and applying a coherent policy with regard to the peace process with the Palestinians. Since I highly doubt that Europe would make such a decision without some kind of green light from Obama, I think it is quite safe to ascertain that the Americans are also on board in this new attempt to put pressure on Israel.
The timing and reasoning behind these guidelines is highly questionable. Judging from the Israeli government’s aggressive reaction until now, we can safely assume that Europe’s attempt to pressure Netanyahu will only result in him hunkering down behind his present policy. The Palestinians for their part will likely see these guidelines as confirming their belief that time is on their side, and they need only bide their time until further sanctions and international isolation force Israel into making concessions it would likely not make through negotiations. Instead of helping to break the deadlock, they will probably damage Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts in the region.
Yet all this is beside the point. The surprise and outrage expressed by Israeli politicians is misplaced and hypocritical. For five years now, the writing has been on the wall for all to see, only to be ignored by Israeli policy makers. The foreign ministers of the E.U. have repeatedly warned of probable economic and political sanctions should Israel’s policy in the West Bank remain unchanged. Take, for example, the December 2012 report of the E.U.’s Council for Foreign Affairs, calling on its member states to “ensure that imports of settlement products do not benefit from preferential tariffs”. Seven of the report’s ten recommendations dealt with imposing direct or indirect sanctions by the E.U. on bodies and organizations involved in construction in the settlements. Now, after not heeding these warnings, and ignoring all the signs along the way, the outraged politicians are expressing their “deep concern” for the future of the peace process. Yes, the very same peace process that no one in the current government really believes in or has done anything substantial to advocate!
The new European directives are a clear message to Israel that it has to make a dramatic decision of its own or suffer the consequences. Israel can continue on its current course and become an outcast apartheid state similar to South Africa. Or, Israel can decide to annex the territories, and give all the residing Palestinians an Israeli citizenship, eventually ending up a non-Jewish state. Oh, I forgot, Israel can also decide to be both democratic and Jewish, without the West Bank and some of the settlements.
We can criticize the Foreign Ministry as much as we want for being caught with its pants down and not knowing of the decision being drafted in the offices of the E.U. in Brussels, and we can also bemoan Israel’s traditional poor advocacy efforts. But the real cause for the situation is the poor statesmanship coming out of Jerusalem. The Foreign Ministry, which due to political maneuvers lacks a full-time minister, and is currently also protesting poor work conditions, should not be blamed for Netanyahu’s ineptitude and inability to decide. Israel’s fundamental problem in the world is not advocacy or bad PR, but the lack of policy, for at the end of the day, how can one advocate a non-existing policy?
What is needed now is an historic decision by a leader of a state, and not a declaration more suited to that of a departmental manager in a government office. Anyone thinking Netanyahu is that statesman, please raise their hand.