The Europeans have been forging an increasingly specific policy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict, centred on the Green (1949 Armistice) Line as the provisional border between Israel and Palestine. While this is a clever strategy, several important aspects will come to the fore in the near future and will need to be addressed for it to be fully effective in an increasingly difficult international environment.
Unlike other international actors, the Europeans (meaning EU member states and the EC/EU) have a fairly clear position on a specific point in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since 1973, they have clarified that, in the absence of an internationally and locally recognised border between Israel and Palestine, they will refer to the 1949 Armistice Line (the so-called Green Line) and will work to keep that reference point in existence. The Green Line is not a border, as it is not recognised internationally by key actors, but it is the closest that Israel and Palestine have, with the UN's 1947 Partition Plan being more or less ignored since the 1948-49 war. It was in fact a sealed boundary between 1950 and 1967 when Jordan annexed the West Bank. The "border" was erased by Israel's 1967 occupation and disappeared from official Israeli maps in the 1960s; it was targeted by Israel's Likud government which took office in 1977 as a thing of the past.
In the wake of the 1973 war, however, the Europeans embraced a clearer position than UN Security Council Resolution 242, which in 1967 called famously and ambiguously for Israel's withdrawal from "occupied territories". The Europeans declared instead that Israel should "end the territorial occupation" which it has maintained since the conflict in 1967; hence, it should end the occupation in full. While the Venice Declaration in 1980 (and countless others since) spelled out what the Europeans believed should happen to the territory from which Israel is to withdraw and hinted also at land swaps, the Green Line has remained a point of reference in European foreign policy, setting the Europeans apart from the US position on the issue and also from the UN set of resolutions, which have not elaborated on the point since 1967.
The support of the Europeans for the Green Line has not always been consistent in practice. Its implementation in economic terms has been tortuous at best. Already at the time of signing the 1975 preferential trade agreement between the EC and Israel, the EC Presidency was at pains to explain to Arab participants of the Euro-Arab Dialogue how the agreement was to be implemented in such a way so as to exclude the (occupied) territories beyond the Green Line. A more balanced approach was codified in 1986, when the EC not only established a preferential regime for goods originating "in the occupied territories" but also recognised the authority of signing export documents EUR.1 to Palestinian Chambers of Commerce. The duality of approach was maintained during the Oslo peace process, when the EU signed two separate Association Agreements with Israel in 1995 and with the PLO/PA in 1997. Crucially, however, and largely due to the euphoria of the time, the agreement with Israel did not include a specification of the territory of Israel, thus leaving Israel free to define its own territory according to international trade law. This produced a series of problems, first resolved in 2005 in a "technical agreement" according to which goods produced in settlements beyond the Green Line could enter the European Single Market but not benefit from the preferential tariff accorded to goods produced inside the Green Line (ie in Israel itself). The European Court of Justice in 2010 stressed once again the more general principle: the Association Agreements with Israel and with the PLO/PA are to have two different territorial bases, which once again raised the issue of the dividing boundary.
Since 2010 and most famously in 2013, we have witnessed a streamlining of the Europeans' capacity to implement their position on the Green Line in relations with Israel. The issue was brought up on the occasion of Israel's accession to the OEDC in 2010 (demanding Israel to provide separate statistics for Israel inside the Green Line and for its settlements in the occupied territories); in relation to data protection in 2011 (which the European Commission considers not to be under Israel's authority beyond the Green Line); again in relation to imports from settlements in 2012 (the origin of which is now to be guaranteed by European importers); and in the aviation agreement between the EU and Israel (in which member states recognise the authority of Israel only inside the Green Line). In 2013 we saw an increase in activities. The ACAA agreement seemed to mark a step backwards, as it accepted Israeli standards, especially in the crucial aspect of pharmaceutical testing. However, it also recognised the territorial jurisdiction of the Israeli Ministry of Health only inside the Green Line. Similar provisions have been enacted to limit the authority of Israelis in certifying fresh fruit and vegetables, organic farming and poultry and dairy products. In July 2013, the European Commission established guidelines to limit the participation of Israel to all EU-funded programmes to be agreed in the future (and Horizon 2020 in the immediate sense) to Israeli entities residing and acting inside the Green Line.
A relatively consistent body of practices has, therefore, emerged to make sure that the vision developed by the Europeans in 1973 is implemented across the board in 2015 and beyond. Much remains to be done, though, and European countries face a number of areas that need clarification, if this strategy is to be fully effective.
The first issue is finance. As EU heads of mission have been saying for years (including in their latest report), "financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements and services" involving settlements involve risks, because they are void according to international law. The EU has already specified in the 2013 Guidelines that its loans to Israel must not involve settlements. This creates the very tangible problem of how European financial institutions can avoid taking these acts into account when, for instance, providing mortgages or other financial services to European and Israeli citizens (or citizens of any other nationality).
A second issue refers to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and "boycott of Israel". The name of the game in transatlantic relations at the moment is the TTIP, which will facilitate trade between the EU and the US. In anticipation of negotiations reaching crunching point, the US Congress is preparing legislation that aims to tie the US president to promote trade only with partners who do not boycott Israel. However, the definition of "boycott" must include a distinction between trade inside and beyond the Green Line. This will put pressure on the EU, which has aimed to make such a distinction for the past forty years.
Thirdly, member states are going to encounter yet again the issue of recognition of Palestine. All member states represented in East Jerusalem/Ramallah have quietly been upgrading their diplomatic status, inching towards recognition even in the absence of full recognition. Such recognition, of course, is afforded by states (not the EU), but the debate is clearly taking place at the European level, as the recent discussions in national parliaments and in the European Parliament showed in Autumn 2014. During that period, only Sweden took the plunge and recognised Palestine as an international state (with very little European solidarity). This occurred as an electoral promise in the first instance, which was then maintained by the newly-elected government. The Labour Party in Britain, which was fully behind the parliamentary vote in favour of Palestine's recognition in October last year, stopped short of pledging to favour recognition in its 2015 general election manifesto. Nevertheless, the issue is likely to come up again and again.
Furthermore, consular affairs is a chapter that is going to be addressed in the future. At the moment, there is a very complex and murky situation, in which Israel has the upper hand in deciding how to treat European citizens, including with regards to the provision of working visas for staff of European NGOs in Palestine and in the visa regime applied to European citizens married to people of Palestinian origin (who acquire all the restrictions applied to the person they marry). European countries' policies have so far been more generous. Not only have they not taken into account the suggestion of EU heads of mission in Jerusalem to consider restricting violent Israeli settlers' access to European countries, but they have also done little to consider the issue of the residents of Israel's settlements, who might use documents or services not compatible with international law as interpreted by European countries.
The debate at the European level is now focusing on the long-due issue of the labelling of goods, but much more faces European member states. The next few months will be crucial for conversations in Europe along these lines.
Dr Federica Bicchi Associate Professor in International Relations of Europe at the London School of Economics.Dr Bicchi's research interests lie in EU foreign policy and external relations – especially as they relate to the Middle East and to the Mediterranean countries. She is also interested in the promotion of democracy in Arab countries and in international relations theory and theoretical approaches to European foreign policy.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.