The EU move to upgrade formally its Association Agreement [EUIAA] with Israel, giving the latter even greater preferential access to European markets, has come under criticism since its announcement in late July. The "special status" this confers would not only cement stronger trade and business ties, but would also bolster scientific, political and cultural links. It would likewise provide Israel with greater scope for collaborative and cooperative activities within the EU, input into key regional policies and greater access to European funding.
As such, there has been an increased recent focus and concern over Israel's human rights record within its borders and the Arab territories it occupies, as well as "its basic inconsistence with the legal requirements of Article Two of the EUIAA". The EU-Israel agreement stipulates that Israel's internal and international policies must be guided by international law, human rights and democracy. Any upgrade demands that strict conditions in this respect be met.
Following UN contentions that it had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during its assault on the Gaza Strip in 2008/9, Israel came in breach of the EUIAA agreement and the European Neighbourhood Policy and a previous agreement upgrade was suspended. This is in addition to Israel's perpetual violation of basic human rights and international law as a result of its on-going military occupation. Abuses include severe curtailment of the indigenous people's freedom of movement, racially segregated by-pass roads, arbitrary home demolitions and aggressive expansionism and settlement. Within the state itself, Israel's Arab citizens endure inequality in rights and services under a growing plethora of discriminatory laws.
With the 2010 Turkish 'Freedom Flotilla' tragedy and the fiasco which the leaked Palestine Papers exposed "peace negotiations" to be, Israel's pronounced disregard for international law and opinion is now more palpable among Europeans than ever before. Furthermore, the results of a pioneering recent study into changing European public perceptions of the Israel-Palestine Conflict suggest that a shift in European policy-making away from an imbalanced support for Israeli interests over those of Palestinians is necessary in order to bring it more in line with European public opinion.
So how does the EU justify its decision to upgrade the agreement with Israel?
It is self-evident and historically demonstrable that upgrading the EUIAA cannot and will not influence Israeli policy on human rights and democracy. Increased cooperation and benefits can only serve to legitimise discriminatory policies and reinforce the belief that Israel can continue its illegal occupation with impunity. Moreover, it will create a clear dichotomy between EU policy and action, and the potential for adverse consequences with political, economic and security dimensions.
It is the EU's responsibility to apply conditionality in its relationship with Israel in accordance with the EUIAA and the evolving views and wishes of a growing segment of the population served by Members of the European Parliament. By leveraging further cooperation and benefit and making it contingent upon formal compliance and commitment to international laws, norms and expectations, it is within Europe's power to further a peaceful and more expeditious resolution to the Palestine-Israel conflict.
This was first published in TheHouse Magazine on October 2012. Volume 36