The EU needs to place conditions on its trade relations with Israel if it wants to see any progress towards resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“Our intention is to ensure that the trade agreement with Israel is not being used to smuggle settlement [colony] products,” said Denmark’s Foreign Minister, Villy Soevndal, last May. This is exactly what the controversy over the Agreement on Conformity and Acceptance of Industrial products (ACAA) between the European Union (EU) and Israel is all about.
And this is precisely why the European Parliament should not approve the EU-Israel ACAA: The European Commission is unable to provide a legal explanation for Israel’s inclusion of West Bank within its “territory” and even if they were to exclude the West Bank from their definition in the agreement, there would be no way of ascertaining if products actually came from the illegal Jewish colonies or not.
Yet, the European Parliament is moving quixotically ahead towards passing the EU-Israel ACAA. The Foreign Affairs Committee essentially approved the agreement with the pending legal clause of how to square the Jewish colony circle (which cannot be solved because the colonies are illegal by all international standards.)
European Commissioner for Trade, Karel de Gucht, clarified the legal question posed by Members of the European Parliament, Brok and Moreira, by reiterating the official European position in Brussels that recognition of the EU-Israel ACAA will be granted “only on the basis that the territory covered by the Responsible Authority does not include territories brought under Israeli administration in 1967”.
The International Trade Committee in the European Parliament will vote on whether or not to approve the EU-Israel ACAA next fall. The outcome will affect the parliament’s plenary vote on this trade agreement with Israel. Of course, this needs to be rejected at all costs.
The problem here is not at all with the democratic process of voting and making one’s opinion known. Rather, this highly political issue has been turned into a contorted legal fracas that has no correct answer except that it is illegal.
Everyone knows that the Jewish colonies in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank are illegal under international law. If the European Parliament approves the trade agreement with Israel, Brussels will be sending a political message that “it’s OK, great, go ahead with more colony growth”, with disastrous implications for the paralysed peace process and the nearly-obsolete two-state solution.
By supporting trade with Israel and implicitly allowing products from the illegal Jewish colonies to enter the European market would also be illegal by European standards. So advancing further with the EU-Israel ACCA is simply a lose-lose scenario for the Europeans at large.
A more constructive approach from the European Parliament would be to say: “No More Trade with Israel” just as the committees for civil liberties, industry, legal affairs and development did with success to reject the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) this month.
The International Trade Committee should do the same with the EU-Israel ACAA: “No More Trade with Israel” until Israel complies with international law, until Israel ends the military occupation and Jewish colony growth, until Israel commits to the two-state solution once and for all.
The EU needs to place conditions on its trade relations with Israel if it wants to see any progress towards resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is what Denmark is moving to do by introducing a labelling system for all goods exported from Jewish colonies. (Who is going to make and monitor that labelling system is another story all together.)
In 2009, the UK moved to label products that were imported from Jewish colonies for those who wished to boycott their purchase to do so. That is a step in the right direction. This year, the British Co-operative Group became the first major European supermarket group to end trade with companies that export produce from illegal Israeli colonies. That is even better news.
If this EU-Israel ACAA is allowed to pass, then the Arab-Israeli conflict will most certainly persist with reverberations to be felt across the Arab region. Due to the positive changes currently under way across North Africa and West Asia, the timing is propitious to encourage ameliorating trade relations with other Mediterranean partners.
The economic benefits will far outweigh the potential gains from some more illegal Israeli products and Europe will be rewarding its neighbours for moving towards greater democracy, rather than rewarding Israel for its abuse of civil rights towards its Arab citizens for example, not to mention the OCCUPATION again.
Turn to Tunisia for better economic ties, or Morocco, or Egypt, or Lebanon, where democratic apertures are turning into popular practices — those are win-win ACCAs waiting to be exploited with positive gains for all parties and people involved.
Stuart Reigeluth is Editor of Revolve Magazine and works at the Council for European-Palestinian Relations (CEPR) in Brussels. This article was published in Gulf News on July 11, 2012.