Early this week, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen phoned EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell asking him not to interfere in Israel’s domestic affairs. This came following a one-hour debate held by the EU Parliament on the planned controversial judicial overhaul in Israel and its effect on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel’s Jerusalem Post reported Borrel saying: “We are a close observer because Israel is a key partner, and our shared values are based on a democratic and open society and the rule of law.” However, he explained that the EU has discussed the situation of democracy in Israel because it is an observer and Israel is a “key partner”, Cohen insisted that the EU was wrong.
An article Borrell published last week also angered Cohen. In it, Borrell criticised escalating Israeli settler violence and Israeli military operations that often lead to casualties among Palestinians. He also noted that settlement is increasing, as are attempts to change the status quo at holy sites in Jerusalem.
“Violence on the part of Israeli settlers in the West Bank is increasingly threatening Palestinian lives and livelihoods – almost always with impunity,” he pointed out. “Moreover, Israeli military operations frequently cause civilian Palestinian deaths, often without effective accountability; illegal settlements are expanding on occupied land; and the delicate status quo concerning Holy Sites is eroding.”
Cohen’s reprimand bore fruit as Borrell returned to towing the line. He calmed his tone and begged forgiveness from Israel. He said that the EU’s discussion of the status of democracy in Israel was not a means of meddling in Tel Aviv’s internal affairs, but was an attempt to “understand what happens there with respect to our perception of values and interests in the region.”
Borrell also stated that discussing the situation of democracy in Israel did not necessarily mean that there were mistakes that should be corrected, but it could be a kind of “appreciation” for a friend’s way of life. “This cannot be seen as an interference, but a way of showing our interest and our appreciation for Israeli democracy,” Borrell said.
This was very clear during the discussion when Swedish MEP David Lega of the European People’s Party said: “True friends are honest with each other and can also discuss uncomfortable issues.” During the discussion, a number of MEPs called for economic sanctions against Israel, and others called on the EU to cut ties with the occupation state altogether, but Borrell later reiterated that no such measures were under consideration.
Borrell and other MEPs did, however, recognised that Israel carries out “systematic” violations against Palestinians and that the Israeli military operations against them “are not proportionate”. Defending the occupation’s actions, they called them acts of “self-defence”.
The EU representative went further, reminding Cohen that the bloc will never harm Israel. “This is not at all to have an anti-Israeli position – not at all,” the Times of Israel quoted him saying.
But Borrell continually contradicts himself. He clearly said: “Settlements are illegal under international law and their expansion must stop, as well as demolitions and evictions of Palestinians from their homes. The Israeli government must seriously counter the violence of settler extremists and hold perpetrators accountable.”
He also said that the operations of the Israeli occupation army, which are disproportionate, must stop because they are not in line with international law. While reiterating that the EU will not adopt any anti-Israeli position. This proves that the EU is really a “key partner” with Israel.
Why does Borrell not also recognise the Palestinians’ right to self-defence in the face of Israeli aggression? Because the EU is a “key partner” with Israel.
Being a “key partner” with Israel means you are a partner in all of its crimes against Palestinians. What if your member states send arms to Israel to use against Palestinians and to commit crimes against them? This is very clear proof that you are a “key partner” with Israel.
“When taken together European countries are one of Israel’s main suppliers of military systems and equipment, behind only the US,” Research and Action for Peace and Disarmament said in 2014. “In the last ten years EU countries have licensed around €2 billion [$2.1 billion] of military contracts to Israel, including over €600 million [$632.5 million] in 2012 alone. This has included ammunition, weapon firing equipment and components for military aircrafts and vehicles. According to EU Reports, European countries have not sent arms or military systems to Palestine since 2002.”
In 2021, Euro News reported that France, Germany, Spain and Italy “are the main [not the only] exporters” of arms in the EU, noting that they export weapons to countries including Israel. Francesco Vignarca, a member of the Peace and Disarmament Network, told Euro News that “Italy isn’t only providing the Israeli Air Force with planes that could be used to train pilots that carry out attacks, but they could also be providing planes actually used for the attacks themselves.” Meanwhile, Germany issued licences for arms sales to Israel worth €1.6 billion ($1.93 billion) from 2013-2017, according to CAAT.
Israel uses these arms to kill, wound, detain and displace Palestinians, as well as to steal their land and demolish their homes, mosques, hospitals and schools.
While the EU may condemn Israel and its violations, it continues to be a “key partner” in the very same crimes it is denouncing.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.