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How will the EU react to the extremist Israeli gov’t?

While Netanyahu tries to convince his EU partners that this government will be one of ‘business as usual’, his allies in the new government have rushed to push for legal and judicial reforms that disregard international law and further entrench Israel's settler colonial project.

February 20, 2023 at 2:08 pm

A view of the flags of Israel and European Union [Dursun Aydemir – Anadolu Agency]

In the first paragraph of the coalition agreement, Israel’s new government announced that its rule will be grounded on its perceived “exclusive and indisputable rights to all lands of Israel”. This would entitle the formal annexation of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Syrian Golan. The same principles were later repeated by Benjamin Netanyahu on Twitter. While East Jerusalem and the Golan have already been formally annexed by Israel (despite international law barring it from doing so), this is the first time that Israel explicitly announced its intention to fully annex the West Bank. This is in direct violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2334. The new government also announced its intention to legalise over 60 outposts in the West Bank – currently illegal even under Israeli law – adding 25,000 “official” settlers to the occupied territory.

All these measures represent a direct violation of Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under the Geneva Convention, especially the prohibition of population transfer encapsulated in article 49 of the IV Geneva Convention. All States, especially the EU, have an international duty to ensure that Israel complies with the international laws of occupation.

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Ukraine and Israel: double standard

Over the past year, the EU’s official position has opposed all actions that undermine the viability of Palestinian self-determination. This includes actions encouraging further settlement building and the de-facto annexation and expropriation of occupied Palestinian territory. The European Parliament aligned with the EU’s official position in its latest resolution for the prospect of a two-state solution, also recalling that accountability is a cornerstone of peace and security. Nevertheless, faced with Israeli international human rights and humanitarian law violations, the EU has remained immobile while Tel Aviv’s actions get bolder.

Faced with ever increasing threats of Israeli unilateral annexation of the West Bank, how will the EU react? There is much that could be done. The EU was shown to possess a large array of countermeasures to use when states violate international law, as exemplified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nevertheless, the bloc limits itself to issuing statements through its External Action Service every time Israel violates international law.

The EU should use its Association Council with Israel as  an avenue of structured dialogue between the two actors to channel its criticism of Israeli policies and to present its array of countermeasures to redress Israeli behaviour. Furthermore, it should consider cancelling the Association Council if Israel fails to respect the human rights principles enshrined in Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement.  Moreover, it is time for the EU to comply with its obligation to not legitimise breaches of international law and implement regulations forbidding trade with illegal settlements.

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In the current scenario, the EU should also stand ready to revise and when necessary, cancel international cooperation agreements made with Israel, so as  not to provide aid and legitimacy to an international wrongful act in accordance with Article 41 of the Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts.

It wouldn’t be the first time the EU revisits former cooperation plans in  the face of an openly pro-annexation government, with several ministers who openly express racist and violent views.  In 2022, the EU pulled the plug on a police cooperation agreement five years in the making faced with concerns over the new extremist ministers. It’s time that the EU repeats this positive example, demanding that Israel complies with its international obligations if it wishes to be treated as a legitimate partner of the world’s largest trading bloc.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.