EU foreign policy chief confronted over Israeli apartheid

Israeli soldiers on patrol in the streets of Al-Khalil-Hebron (Wikimedia)

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  May 27, 2020

Some rare truths were spoken in the European Parliament on Tuesday when Mick Wallace, a member from Ireland, called out Israeli apartheid and how Zionism is a “colonialist project.”

A major Israel lobby group – alarmed by an uncontrolled outbreak of honest and accurate language – quickly condemned Wallace’s statements as “vile.”

The pro-war AJC Transatlantic Institute, the Brussels wing of the American Jewish Committee, demanded that Wallace’s left-wing parliamentary grouping “withdraw” his words.

Wallace was speaking at a hearing of the parliament’s Subcommittee on Security and Defence, where he confronted European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell over the 27-nation bloc’s failure to hold Israel accountable.

The Irish member highlighted Israel’s planned annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank.

Wallace reminded Borrell that on 4 February, the EU had warned Israel that “Steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged.”

“Do you stand by that statement,” Wallace asked, and queried whether EU measures would include suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement – a generous trade and cooperation deal – “whose validity is predicated on Israel’s respect for human rights and international law.”

Wallace also pointed out another glaring inconsistency in EU policy: “Why has the EU restricted exports and imports from the Crimea, which it says is illegally annexed territory, while it continues to allow Israel to export goods from illegally annexed and occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories?”

“Colonialist project”

The Irish member made broader criticisms of the EU’s insistence on the failed two-state solution.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we actually had a democratic state for Jews and Palestinians between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean?” Wallace asked.

“Right now, the two-state solution is dead, the [existing] one-state one is an apartheid state. Zionism is a colonialist project.”

Borrell dodged Wallace’s specific questions, but acknowledged that there is a deep split within the bloc.

While all EU governments are strongly pro-Israel, there are slight nuances.

Borrell noted that 25 out of 27 governments had approved a recent statement that Israeli annexation of occupied territories would be contrary to international law.

But two countries – Austria and Hungary – refused to sign on.

Yet even the statement backed by the 25 fails to warn of any specific consequences for the massive amounts of EU support Israel receives.

Palestinians demand sanctions

At Tuesday’s hearing, Borrell would not be drawn on any sanctions Israel could face.

He pledged that the EU would “engage all of our diplomatic capacities in order to prevent” annexation but that if Israel proceeded, “we will have to study carefully [what] could be the answer both at the governmental level and at the [EU] level.

For the time being, he added, “I think it’s good not to anticipate events, just to state clearly what we have already stated.”

This hardly inspires confidence, since for decades, EU “diplomatic capacities” have amounted to occasional bleats of “concern” about Israel’s actions, while continuing to shower it with trade and aid.

Meanwhile, Palestinians are stepping up demands for real measures to hold Israel accountable.

Last week, dozens of Palestinian civil society organizations, including professional associations, unions, human rights and advocacy groups issued a call on governments to adopt “effective countermeasures, including sanctions” to “stop Israel’s illegal annexation of the occupied West Bank and grave violations of human rights.”

Their demands include an embargo on arms and military cooperation, suspension of free trade agreements and a prohibition on trade with Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

They also call on governments to “ensure that individuals and corporate actors responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the context of Israel’s regime of illegal occupation and apartheid are brought to justice.”

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books