On 24 April, the European Parliament's committees on foreign affairs (AFET) decided to postpone the vote on the controversial proposed EU-Israel Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA).
The AFET postponement came as a result of the European Commission's failure to provide sufficient legal guarantees to ensure that the definition of Israel's "territory" is limited to the 1967 borders, as acknowledged by the EU.
Those in favour of the EU-Israel ACAA argue – correctly – that it would bring economic benefits to Europe as it would lift trade barriers and lower the prices of specific industrial products entering the European market, in particular for Israeli pharmaceuticals.
The problem, however, lies not within the need to foster trade, but, rather, in the inaccurate assessment of the potential gains and losses for the EU. In fact, the EU has much more to gain from rejecting it.
Image Credit: Illustration: Luis Vazquez © Gulf News
Rejecting this ACAA would mean holding Israel accountable for the democratic deficit inflicted on Palestinian citizens. It would place much-needed conditionality on Israel to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and its siege of Gaza. It would demonstrate that the EU is trying to abide by its own legal framework, which places an obligation on it to ensure consistency between its trade, human rights and foreign policies.
Adopting this ACAA would reinforce a status quo that has disastrous implications for the Palestinians, for European taxpayers, and for the EU's ability to respond effectively to the changes underway across West Asia and North Africa. The EU spends over a billion euros a year to buttress the Palestinian Authority, to improve the disastrous humanitarian situation in Gaza and to sustain Palestinian refugees.
European aid has created chronic dependence rather than spurred development. (Moreover, dozens of EU-sponsored projects have been destroyed by Israel, without Israel being held accountable, legally, politically or financially.)
Rather than maintain this status quo, the EU would do better to engage in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is not only a moral imperative; it is in Europe's long-term economic interest. Stability would boost its trade with the entire region and secure access to energy resources. This would benefit Europeans more than enhancing trade in industrial products with Israel alone.
The EU could enjoy greater economic returns than this ACAA offers if it were to increase bilateral instruments with Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, and Palestine to the level currently enjoyed by Israel. This would also encourage EU policy coherence in the Mediterranean region that should be a paramount concern in Europe's response to the democratic apertures in the Arab world.
After all, how can the EU expect others to comply with the principles and values it encourages if it itself does not stand by them? Already, there is a well-developed perception in the Arab world that, for short-term political and economical reasons, the EU is lenient toward repeated violations of human-rights articles contained in its bilateral agreements.
Tough love from Europe could help convince Israel to change its policy towards the Palestinians and, finally, to normalise its relations with the Arab world. Rejecting the ACAA may seem symbolic – but it could help move the region in a more constructive direction.
Katarzyna Lemanska works at the European Coordination of Committees for Palestine (ECCP). Stuart Reigeluth works at the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR). This article was published in Gulf News and the EUobserver on April 23, 2012. A condensed version was published in the European Voice on April 26, 2012, p. 11.