Boycott or no boycott? That’s the question!

They are a single event in a series of events, which have led the EU to adopt a policy to not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Green Line.

By BASTIAAN BELDER
March 9, 2016 21:10
4 minute read.
Boycott Israel sign

Boycott Israel sign. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The latest EU Council conclusions on the Middle East peace process are a reassertion of the EU’s increasingly hostile foreign policy toward Israel.

The EU’s absurd aspiration – and obsession – with the peace process translates itself into a foreign policy that is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Council conclusions are not a sudden stand-alone act.

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They are a single event in a series of events, which have led the EU to adopt a policy to not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Green Line (the Golan Heights, Gaza and the West Bank including east Jerusalem).

Since 2005, the EU has excluded goods originating from territories located over the Green Line from preferential treatment. In 2012 the EU stopped granting import duty benefits for exports originating from over the Green Line in the free-trade agreement between Israel and the EU. Different EU agencies interpreted the decision differently and in 2013, the EU stopped recognizing the Agriculture Ministry supervision of organic agricultural goods from the West Bank and banned the import of the produce on grounds that the territory was “unsupervised” and thus “posed a danger to public health.”

Interestingly, a work-around solution was found, by companies registered in Palestinian towns buying the produce and exporting it to Europe, under the supervision of a Swiss firm. The example illustrates the willingness of the Israeli-Palestinian business community to cooperate and trade and jointly dodge the EU’s non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the contested territories.

While many question whether the recent labeling move constitutes a boycott, we would argue that it doesn’t directly, but indirectly it certainly does. It plants a seed for a boycott and the move definitely constitutes a reassertion of EU policy. But the EU is correct in stating that the labeling of products does not constitute a boycott in itself. It is not so much labeling that is a boycott, but rather the not often spoken about EU decision on September 1, 2014, to stop recognizing Agriculture Ministry veterinary supervision beyond the Green Line. In effect, this has led to a boycott of Israeli poultry, eggs and milk exports to EU markets.

It extended the boycott on foods manufactured within internationally recognized Israel and which use products from Israeli companies located over the Green Line.

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In order to still export to the EU, companies needed to create two production lines, one for goods designated for Europe using only ingredients sourced from within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, and one from both sides of the Green Line for domestic consumption and international exports – excluding the EU – which do not have such requirements, e.g. China and Russia.

A European delegation came after the change in EU policy to observe the setup.

In all these events, it is interesting to observe that the EU claims it solely aims to ensure the respect of Union positions and commitments in conformity with international law on the non-recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories located over the Green Line. However, it then claims that it also aims at maintaining open and smooth trade, not hindering trade flows, and should not be construed as doing so. It sounds entirely counter-intuitive: how can one introduce hostile policy but at the same time claim that it should not be hindering open and smooth trade flows? In the context of the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Europe, it is also interesting to note the increasing relations that exist between Israel and Arab states with whom it has no official relations.

While the EU continues its path of differentiation between Israel and “settlement activities,” Arab states have started viewing Israel in the regional context – rather than the narrower Palestinian context – as a stable, strong country with which it is beneficial and rewarding to cooperate with. The increasing alignment between Israel and Arab states is out of concern for the growing Iranian influence in the Middle East and its fueling of global and regional terrorism, destabilizing the region.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is seen happily shaking hands with Saudi Prince Turki bin-Faisal Al Saud at the Munich Security Conference on February 14, 2016, on a picture published on the website of the Defense Ministry. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the growing ties between Israel and the Arab states could help pave the way toward an agreement with the Palestinians. He further notes that encouragement of leading Arab states for a more realistic position on the part of the Palestinian Authority might contribute to a stabilizing situation and advance to a better future. The EU could greatly learn from the Arab states’ policy toward Israel, which proves itself successful, rather than its own policy of differentiation, which only hurts EU-Israel relations and undermines its position in the peace process.

If the EU wants to become a more credible player in the peace process, it could consider increasing funding on combating anti-Semitism in Europe and in the world.

The awful attacks in Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen have led to the strengthening of already quite strong intelligence cooperation between Israel and Europe. But, as a measure to increase trust between the EU and Israel, EU funding should be increased to fund projects aimed at combating terrorism, anti-Semitism, cracking down on online hate speech and incitement to violence and murder. These are some very real concerns for the Jewish community in Europe, and we should never forget the well-being of the Jewish Diaspora as well as the security of the state of Israel when devising EU-Israel policy.

The writer is a Dutch member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group at the European Parliament. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, serves as vice-chair of the Israel Delegation and is a member of Europe Israel Public Affairs Advisory Committee.

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