EU policy on Israeli war crimes unlikely

Analyst to 'Post': Only restriction is "hold" on elevated EU partnership.

January 27, 2010 06:12
3 minute read.
EU policy on Israeli war crimes unlikely

Gaza rubble 298.88. (photo credit: AP)


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The European Union is unlikely to issue a formal or cohesive policy regarding war crimes allegations leveled against Israeli politicians and army officers for their roles in last year's Gaza conflict, experts from the Brussels-based European Policy Center told The Jerusalem Post last week.

Rosa Balfour, senior policy analyst at the think tank, said that despite legal proceedings in a handful of member countries against Israeli officials, differing foreign policies among the 27 EU states means that a formal declaration on the issue or serious sanctions will probably never materialize.

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According to Balfour, the only restriction currently being imposed on Israel is a "hold" on its elevated partnership status with EU, an upgrade that was agreed upon 10 years ago.

This freeze, however, which is due to EU disapproval of settlement construction in the West Bank, has had little impact on Israel's trade with the EU, which currently accounts for 50 percent of the Jewish state's exports.

Imposing restrictions such as freezing financial assets or suspending trade agreements is a common practice by the EU against partner nations that refuse to comply with certain policies or directives. A case in point is Serbia, which refused to hand over its alleged war criminals following the conflict with neighboring states in the early 1990s, said Balfour, an expert on EU foreign policy.

"Each EU country deals with conflict in its own way and there can be no common foreign policy on this matter," she said. In any case, the EU has very little political power but is rather more of an aid and trade instrument for nearby nations.

Even the entry to office on December 1 of Catherine Ashton as the first high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy - a post created under the Lisbon Treaty that took effect that day and is meant to give the union a more defined foreign policy - is not likely to persuade member states to act in a cohesive manner, especially on controversial issues such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, Balfour said.

"The EU could leverage more power in these matters but it doesn't," observed Balfour, adding that each country has its own interests in maintaining a certain type of relationship in the Middle East.

Balfour's comments, however, came less than a week after a delegation of high ranking European parliamentary officials visited the Gaza Strip and urged that some Israeli officials be tried as war criminals.

The delegation, headed by British Labor Party legislator Sir Gerald Kaufman, included some 60 EU parliamentarians, representative of 12 countries. Kaufman and his colleagues called for the prosecution of Israeli officials accused of authorizing the use of white phosphorus bombs against civilians during the Gaza conflict of December 2008-January 2009.

This delegation follows the September 2009 report of a UN fact-finding team headed by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, which accused the IDF of war crimes against the Palestinians.

In addition, last month Kadima chairwoman and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni was forced to cancel a trip to London after Palestinian activists persuaded a court to issue an arrest warrant for her role in the Gaza offensive. Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog have found themselves in similar positions.

Israel's relationship with the EU falls mainly under its Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, a consortium of 17 countries based mainly in the Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Libya. Aid and trade agreements between Israel and the EU come via the European Neighborhood Policy, which aims to develop relationships with countries that border Europe.

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