Last March, the European External Action Service (EEAS) published its reports on the implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) in 2014 and recommendations for actions in the so-called neighborhood countries. These are the countries encircling the European Union from the east and south – “a ring of friends.”
Although they don’t have a clear European perspective of becoming member states, they are encouraged to integrate as much as possible with the EU’s internal market and to adopt the basic values of the EU. For that purpose they receive substantial EU funding for projects that are similar to those funded in the candidate countries.
An annex to the country-specific reports includes statistical data, indicators and benchmarks on democracy and human rights. This is quite interesting considering the fact that the European Commission until now has abstained from providing similar data on the candidate countries where such comparisons could have pressed them to make more progress in their accession process.
As regards Israel the progress report is overall positive, and it’s no wonder that Israel compares well with all other neighborhood countries – which either have become failed states, torn apart by civil wars, struggling with frozen conflicts and turning down EU offers of association agreements.
The report on Israel comes with some caveats. It deals with the progress made between January 1 and December 31, 2014, in the implementation of the EU-Israel ENP Action Plan.
Developments outside this period are taken into consideration where relevant. Israel seems to take EU’s reporting seriously as it has addressed some of the recommendations of last year’s report.
More recommendations could probably have been implemented if only the two parties had met regularly during 2014. It comes as a surprise to read that no EU-Israel Association Council or committee meetings were held in 2014. Unfortunately EU-Israel relations aren’t as good as they used to be and need to be realigned, taking into account the challenges in the region.
Nevertheless, the report claims that cooperation and bilateral dialogue with Israel was far greater than in 2013.
Meetings took place in all 10 association subcommittees, which serve as policy dialogue forums involving both EU and Israeli officials. The main source of information in the report comes obviously from these meetings and official data published by Israeli authorities.
Although the report, in its own words, is not a general assessment of the political and economic situation in Israel, it’s useful for anyone following the development in Israel and its relations with EU. It’s farfetched to call it an anti-Israel report as it includes plenty of positive assessment of Israeli policies. Overall it’s a balanced report.
As it states, implementing common values such as respect for human rights in the occupied territories and in relation to minorities continued to pose a challenge during 2014.
Criticism of Israel, however, is matched with positive comments when they’re due. Just to mention one example: Israel has accepted a large number of recommendations made in a review by the UN Human Rights Council.
My main remark against the report would be that it underestimates corruption in Israel.
It’s hardly true that the perception of corruption, according to Transparency International, remained at a “relatively low level” in 2014 because it was more or less the same as in 2013.
It’s known to all that Israel has dropped several steps in the international ranking and this is well illustrated by the number of recent corruption scandals, prosecutions and convictions affecting all spheres of Israeli society.
They have involved a former prime minister, ministers, party- linked associations, mayors, officers, police, rabbis, judges, lawyers and businessmen. If it were not for the pervasive corruption and the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, Israel would be a perfect candidate for EU membership, judging from the EU report.
It came therefore as a total surprise that NGO Monitor, under its president Professor Gerald Steinberg, recently denounced the EU report on Israel as “flawed” and accused it of being based on material from a narrow group of “fringe NGOs resulting in a distorted approach that has affected the report’s content and credibility.”
NGO Monitor was founded in 2002, after the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, where Israel was painted as an “apartheid state” and Zionism compared to racism. It sees as its mission as making NGOs accountable by providing information about their activities – especially those claiming to advance human rights and a humanitarian agenda in Israel.
To its credit it must be said that NGO Monitor is generally doing a good job of collecting information about the funding of these NGOs and the background of those working in them. Such information is not always easy to collect – even the European Commission, despite its lip service to transparency, has refused to disclose all information.
NGOs and their managers need to be scrutinized, and some have been found to be involved in boycotting and delegitimizing Israel. It wouldn’t be credible on the part of the EU and member states to fund NGOs with an anti-Israeli agenda and then use them as sources when reporting on Israel without carefully checking the facts.
But NGO Monitor itself doesn’t act as an unbiased monitor, checking all NGOs operating in Israel, irrespective of their political affiliations. Its main target group is human rights NGOs that are critical of the Israeli government.
Its attitude toward NGOs receiving external funding is similar to that of Russia. An Israeli NGO that receives EU funding is obviously seen as a “foreign agent.” NGOs receiving funding from the Israeli government or right-wing foundations abroad seem to be off its radar (see its list of Israeli NGOs).
When analyzing the EU report, NGO Monitor didn’t discover any factual errors.
Its criticism is almost always about quibbling with words and complaining that context is missing. This is not a sufficient reason to accuse the report of being flawed. Nor does NGO Monitor prove that EU relied only on “selective NGO reports.”
NGO Monitor complains that Israel is singled out as the only ENP country that has a particular chapter devoted to responsibilities under international law although there are other ENP countries involved in territorial disputes or frozen conflicts (e.g.
Armenia and Azerbaijan). But isn’t a separate chapter justified in Israel’s case? Israel is the only country that occupies territories and continues to build in them.
“Settlements are illegal under international law [and] constitute an obstacle to peace,” the EU states. But NGO Monitor claims that such a statement “has the effect, if not the intention, of minimizing the significance of violent attacks against these Israeli civilians.”
Who is jumping into conclusions and distorting reality if not NGO Monitor? The author is a former official at the European Commission.