Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Europe's two faces to Palestine

ISRAELI watchtower on Gaza coast. Now
Palestinian fishermen face worse peril to livelihood.

AS Israel maintains its siege of Gaza, in breach of international law against collective punishment of civilians, and steps up settlements around east Jerusalem, so that even Condeleeza Rice felt bound to protest, where does the European Union stand?
Facing both ways, it seems.

On Monday, June 16, reporting to the European Parliament's plenary session opening in Strasburg
, the current president of the Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, reported on the delegation visiting Palestine and Israel. He closed his speech by expressing solidarity with the fishermen of Gaza, who on the same day took to sea claiming the "Right to live, the right to fish, the right for freedom", during the mobilization organized by the "End the Siege Campaign", a Palestinian and International Campaign (http://www.end-gaza-siege.ps/ ).

The Gaza fishermen, whose catch could be a vital part of feeding their people, have been restricted and harassed by Israeli forces for some time. They were barred from importing bigger engines for their boats which would enable them to venture further out. Now they face a more serious problem. Israeli interference with power supplies and spare parts and materials needed for Gaza's sewage system has led among other things to untreated sewage polluting Gaza's coastal waters. Some has even floated up to beaches near Ashkelon, though the thought that pollution and disease are no respecters of borders and checkpoints does not seem to have penetrated the thick skulls of Israeli political leaders and generals yet.

(...)"While we are here today", noted H.G. Pottering, " fishermen in Gaza Strip have taken to sea with their boats. Because of the siege an horrible pollution is spreading all around, threatening the daily life of fishermen who are protesting against the siege. They are demonstrating for the right to fish, to live, for freedom and for peace. Our EP delegation promised to support the fishermen. Therefore, in the name of all of us, I would like to express the solidarity of the European Parliament with all these fishermen".

(Thanks to European parliament vice-president Luisa Morgantini from Italy for translating and forwarding this, by the way.)

So how does Europe respond? How does the EU show solidarity, or listen to appeals from Palestine?

Here's what the Israeli daily Haaretz reported today:
EU unanimously upgrades Israel ties, turning aside PA objections
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent

The European Union, turning aside Palestinian objections, has announced upgraded relations with Israel in the form of a range of steps involving commerce, the economy, and academic ties as well as improvements in the diplomatic dialogue between the sides.

The decision was taken unanimously on Monday by the EU's 27 member
> nations, following an intense diplomatic effort by Israel.

The upgrade in relations had been in doubt prior to the decision, amid moves to make approval conditional on a freeze on Israeli settlement activity and on progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad enraged Israeli
officials when he asked the EU not to upgrade ties with Israel unless
Israel ceased construction of settlements and the West Bank separation

The PA has charged that Israel delayed and reduced payments of tax revenues it collects for the Authority in order to "punish" Fayyad.

In the wake of diplomatic efforts by senior Foreign Ministry officials, the EU made do with a call for movement in
Israeli-Palestinian talks, and without conditioning the upgrade on such progress.

Accordingly, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and EU counterparts meeting
in Luxembourg on Monday agreed to set up a working group to discuss
the outlines of upgraded ties and to present their conclusions by
year's end.

The upgrade will be carried out in a number of spheres. The diplomatic
dialogue between the Israeli government and senior officials of EU
institutions, by means of annual high-level meetings.

In the economic sphere, Israel will join European agencies and working
groups with the aim of bringing the Israeli economy closer to European
standards, and to help Israeli companies more easily contend with the
European commercial market, particularly in the fields of high-tech
and aviation.

Upgraded ties may also lead to recognition by European academic
institutions of degrees awarded by Israeli universities and colleges,
a step which would allow Israeli students to study for advanced
degrees in European universities and other academic institutions.

In addition, the process would allow grants worth tens of millions of
euros to be awarded Israeli scientists and researchers.


It is not hard to see that besides its economic value, this closer relationship can have renewed military significance. The founder of Israel's nuclear weapons programme, Yuval Ne'eman, was trained at London 's Imperial College, and the programme grew on French and British collaboration. Today while the great powers still admonish Iran, and draw up sanctions, Israel is reported to possess 150 nuclear weapons.

Other voices were raised besides that of the Palestine Authority against upgrading.

Dear Member of European Parliament,

At the European Council meeting on 19-20 June, I understand that EU heads of state will consider upgrading political and economic ties with Israel under the EU's Euro-Med programme. I am writing to you on behalf of European Jews for a Just Peace, to request that you make the strongest representations possible to the EU governments that such an upgrade is deeply inappropriate at this time.
EU officials have emphasised that the importance of maintaining close relations with Israel, at a time when Israel is occupying or blockading Palestinian Territory, is to encourage Israel to adhere more closely to European norms of behaviour with respect to human rights, democracy and international law. This policy has failed.
The Barcelona Declaration governing the EuroMed process - signed by then Prime Minister, now Defence Minister Ehud Barak - commits signatories to:
"act in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other obligations under international law...
...develop the rule of law and democracy in their political systems...
respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and guarantee the effective legitimate exercise of such rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of association for peaceful purposes..."
Israel is known to contravene international law, most obviously through the collective punishment of the population of Gaza, so described by External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner in January this year. Less widely known are the many instances where it shows contempt for the rules of its own laws. I have appended some instances for your information.
The intention to promote European values through closer economic, political and cultural ties is noble in principle. In practice, Israel shows no respect for the agreements it has already signed. Now is not the time for the EU to upgrade relations with Israel.
I would be grateful if you would convey these concerns to your foreign minister and let me know their response.
Yours sincerely
Dan Judelson
European Jews for a Just Peace
June, 12th 2008

Last year, at the conference of trades union councils in Britain , a lengthy composite resolution on Palestine was passed, including references to the possibility of boycotting Israeli trade, and a delegation of British trades unionists has visited Palestine and Israel. In the report for this year's conference in Sheffield the TUC general council merely commented that the resolution was "in line with TUC policy in that it emphasises a 'two state solution' and the importance of the road map."

This year there were no resolutions on Palestine, Iraq or Iran. But as I told fellow-delegates during a workshop discussion, I wondered what kind of "two states" were being talked about when Britain would not even allow visas for an under-19 Palestinian football side. "I don't know about the 'road map', but I am more concerned about road blocks in Palestine," I said.

Without detracting from the sincerity of those EU politicians talking about solidarity, the real face of Europe that Palestinians are seeing is one of a partner with Israel in oppression.

It is time for the trade union movement to make good its resolutions by stepping out of line with the British government and others that are backing the US and Israel.

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