The EU’s delay in sanctioning Israel reflects its compromised ‘peace building’ agenda

A mural depicting Iyad al-Halak, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian man shot dead by Israeli police, on a section of Israel's separation barrier in Bethlehem (AFP)

Ramona Wadi

Middle East Monitor  /  June 30, 2020

According to Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, 1 July is not “a sacred date” to implement the proposed annexation of more Palestinian land. In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu minimised the role played by Gantz’s Blue and White Party, while slightly altering the latter’s statement to state that due to diplomatic and security concerns, annexation would take place after 1 July.

The bottom line is that while Israel might move the timeframes it is unlikely to renege on its unilateral decision, supported by the US. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Israel has worked on its plans, availing itself of the overt political support granted by the Trump administration, while the international community refrained from collaborating on a unified effort to halt what would be yet another major violation of international law by the settler-colonial state. It would be wrong, though, to blame the pandemic for the international community’s refusal to hold Israel accountable. On other occasions before Covid-19 came along, international responses to Israel’s criminal actions were perpetually belated, ineffective and apologetic.

Even when the US-Israeli plans seem to be threatening EU diplomacy, the bloc has still failed to come up with a unified response, let alone draft measures that sanction Israel for the forthcoming annexation of the occupied West Bank. Small EU states have attempted to rally the rest of the bloc to push for sanctions should Israel implement its plans, but Israeli diplomacy at EU level is having an impact on calls to hold the occupation state to account. The more powerful countries in the EU are holding back from a clear and unambiguous position on the issue. Their ambiguity will, in the end, work out favourably for Israel; it always does.

If the EU wanted to take action against Israel’s violations of international law, it has always had the means to do so at its disposal. Isolating Israel diplomatically by cutting off all relations would send a strong signal that Europe objects to the latest step in Israel’s colonial project. Such a move would also shift attention towards the fact that the violation pertains to the settler-colonial state itself, a fact which the international community seeks to overlook by dissociating the violation from the perpetrator in Israel’s case.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, has been the most consistent in calling out Israel’s violations and the need to impose punitive measures. He has called upon the EU to “review and be willing to suspend or downgrade its array of trade and cooperation agreements, including the EU-Israel Association Agreement and Horizon2020/Horizon Europe.” These agreements rest upon the sharing of common values such as human rights and upholding international law. However, the common value shared by the EU and the settler-colonial entity is ongoing collaboration to safeguard Israel’s colonialism, which makes the conditions validating the agreements meaningless in terms of observance and interpretation.

Predictably, any delay from Israel will be met with further dithering from the international community, the EU included. Perhaps, instead of expecting the EU to come up with measures that hold Israel accountable for the latest manifestation of its colonisation process — and this must be done with unequivocal calls for decolonisation — it would be best to scrutinise the role that the bloc’s “peace building” agenda has played in Israel’s latest contempt for international law. The delay in imposing sanctions on Israel reflects the EU’s compromised role in what it claims to be “peace building” in occupied Palestine.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger; her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America