Europe’s dirty embrace of Israel’s occupation

Young Palestinian men resist Israeli occupation forces (Issam Rimawi - Anadolu Agency)

David Cronin 

The Electronic Intifada  /  December 23, 2022

Does Benjamin Netanyahu’s imminent return as Israel’s prime minister fill the hearts of European Union representatives with dread?

It would be naive to think so.

Cappuccino-sipping sophisticates in Brussels would no doubt prefer if the new Israeli coalition did not include a gun-toting fascist like Itamar Ben-Gvir and if the prospect of formally annexing settlement blocs in the West Bank was removed from the agenda.

Yet the fact remains that Netanyahu was in power for most of the past 13 years. During that time, the EU actually took important steps to strengthen its cooperation with Israel.

The cooperation was stepped up in dirty and sneaky ways, even as newspaper headlines gave the impression that the EU and Israel were constantly at loggerheads.

Documents released following a freedom of information request show that delegations from Israel’s police visited Europol, the EU’s “crime-fighting” agency, on at least five occasions between 2017 and 2021.

At least two of those delegations were led by Roni Alsheikh, then Israel’s police commissioner.

Alsheikh headed a police force that sided openly with Jewish extremists intent on destroying Islamic holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem.

In tandem with Netanyahu, Alsheikh rushed to brand Palestinians killed by officers under his command as “terrorists.”

There is ample evidence that Alsheikh pursued a strategy of smearing the dead before their bodies had gone cold. When the police attacked Umm al-Hiran, a Palestinian community living inside Israel, and killed Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan as he tried to drive out of that village in January 2017, Alsheikh lied by alleging that the victim had attacked the police.

His lies remained the official version of events, even when human rights monitors could prove that they were lies.

The EU rewarded him for his lies.

In 2018, Alsheikh signed a “working arrangement” with Europol. The “arrangement” allows the two sides to work together on war crimes and terrorism.

Frozen ?

A further agreement on sharing personal data between Europol and Israel was clinched in September this year.

The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz recently reported that the EU told Israel in early December that it was “freezing” that deal.

The Haaretz story was exaggerated.

An official with the European Commission – the EU’s executive – told me that the deal reached in September had been concluded “provisionally” and at a “technical level.”

When the deal was subsequently discussed by the EU’s 27 governments, “concerns were raised” about a “territorial clause” in the agreement, according to the official, who requested anonymity. As a result, the European Commission “informed Israel that another negotiation round will be necessary to further clarify elements of the draft agreement,” the official added.

Contrary to what Haaretz claimed, this does not indicate the deal has been frozen. Rather, it suggests that some EU countries want a few words in it to be changed.

The deal clinched in September certainly should set alarm bells ringing.

It uses a euphemism when referring to the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights. They are described as “the geographic areas that came under the administration” of Israel after June 1967.

The deal would permit Israel to use data obtained from Europol in those “geographic areas” for a wide range of purposes. Such data may be used in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan with Europol’s approval if it is deemed “necessary for the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offenses.”

While EU governments should indeed be objecting to such open-ended clauses, their “concerns” are patently inadequate.

Any form of cooperation with Israel’s police involves embracing an occupation.

The police force’s headquarters are located in East Jerusalem. If the EU was genuinely resolute in opposing Israel’s colonization of East Jerusalem, it would completely shun Israel’s police.

Far from shunning that force, the Brussels bureaucracy has categorized Israel as “a strategic partner country” on police cooperation.

Teaming up with Israel’s police does not appear to be the only way that the EU collaborates with forces occupying the West Bank and Gaza.

Since 2015, the EU has been holding “counter-terrorism dialogues” with Israel.

These discussions have been highly secretive but after making freedom of information requests, I have obtained some documents about them.

The documents – see below – show that the EU has been represented at a high level in these “dialogues.”

Among those who took part in such “dialogues” are Ilkka Salmi, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator, and his predecessor Gilles de Kerchove.

Laurent Muschel, a senior official in the European Commission, and Pawel Herczynski, an experienced Polish diplomat, have participated, too.

Depraved

The EU has refused to provide a list of Israel’s participants in these discussions or even say what authorities they work for.

Such discussions, according to the EU’s diplomatic service, “take place within a framework of absolute confidentiality.” Providing further details would “gravely damage the relations between the EU and Israel,” the diplomatic service added.

Significantly, the EU has not denied that Israel’s military and police are taking part in these discussions.

It is impossible to imagine that these forces are not involved in some way.

Almost all talk of “terrorism” in Israel relates to its relentless oppression of Palestinians. Every form of resistance – armed or otherwise – is regarded by Israel as “terrorism.”

Israel has gone so far as to accuse children and human rights groups of terrorism.

Privately, EU officials may consider some of Israel’s rhetoric as absurd. Yet by prioritizing the “counter-terrorism dialogues,” the EU is legitimizing the absurdity.

Itamar Ben-Gvir will soon become Israel’s national security minister. His portfolio gives him responsibility for overseeing Israel’s Border Police – part of the forces brutally occupying the West Bank.

The Brussels elite may well disapprove of Ben-Gvir’s crude anti-Palestinian racism.

No doubt, some members of that elite are aware that he was convicted by Israel’s court system of supporting a terrorist organization in 2007. Some are probably aware, too, that the aforementioned Ronnie Alsheikh regards Ben-Gvir’s policies as dangerous.

Nonetheless, the EU now faces the choice of whether it should hold “counter-terrorism dialogues” with an Israeli government featuring a minister with a conviction for supporting terrorism.

I asked the EU’s diplomatic service if the formation of a new government will have any impact on the “dialogues.”

“In the interest of protection of EU citizens and [the] fight against terrorism, the intention is to continue such dialogues,” the diplomatic service replied.

This response is depraved.

The EU is in effect saying that the safety of its own citizens depends on cooperation with a nuclear-armed apartheid state.

Pass the sick bucket now!

David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada; his books include Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel and Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation