The EU Commission Notice Regarding Israeli Settlements

Yesterday there was much uncertainty regarding the European Union Commission Notice on future EU interactions (or lack of) with Israeli settlements and settler organizations in the occupied territories. Once the guidelines were made available, things cleared up considerably. Over at Tablet Yair Rosenberg has a good summary of what the guidelines are not, while at +972 Noam Sheizaf adds a couple more points, including the fact that the EU updated the Israeli government throughout the process.

I’ve already discussed what I think might be some long-term implications of the decision. Here are a few other points to bear in mind:

1. The EU explicitly excluded EU-funded entities, whether Israeli or Palestinian, from the sanctions. This means that groups monitoring the occupation, for example, can continue their work.

2. The occupied territories include not only the West Bank, but also East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights (Section A [1,2,3]).

3. That East Jerusalem is included is a very sore point with many Israelis and their defenders. It’s argued that the Western Wall (not to mention other sites sacred to Jewish history throughout the West Bank) is severed from Jewish identity, which is then left open to negotiations. The notice is seen, then, as a complete rejection of potential Jewish-Israeli claims to the Old City and other holy sites and an embrace of the Palestinian position that either there is no Jewish connection or everything is up for discussion. I’m not sure I buy that argument, but if Israelis do then the EU will have to address it.

4. The guidelines don’t mention organizations like Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which is located in East Jerusalem. But there are clauses that open the door to exempting these kinds of organizations (e.g., Section C [11]), and the document does explicitly exclude Israeli and Palestinian national entities. It is not, then, a blanket boycott of Israeli institutions, even those that operate in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

5. Section D (15) specifically notes that none of these sanctions apply to activities “aim[ed] at benefiting protected persons under the terms of international humanitarian law who live in these territories and/or at promoting the Middle East peace process in line with EU policy.” This seems to be fairly broad (and rightly so), and allows for some nuance in how the sanctions are applied. Under these conditions, Israeli and Palestinian groups that fit with EU preferences and priorities will be exempted.

It’s clear, then, that the guidelines are targeted very specifically at entities or organizations that facilitate and entrench the Israeli presence in the West Bank, and especially the settlements. It’s not a complete boycott, but it’s a boycott nonetheless.

And while Israeli politicians might be claiming ignorance and shock for political purposes or because they simply refused to see the signs pointing in this direction, and Israelis might think this is a betrayal and an unfair singling out of their little country in the face of widespread conflict and human rights violations around the world, I’d argue that a splash of cold water to wake them up might be one of the more important consequences of the whole thing.

Any final resolution to the conflict will require “painful sacrifices” on both sides. For the Palestinians, that means having to accept that there won’t be a Right of Return. For the Israelis, that means having to accept that they won’t get to keep the West Bank or all of Jerusalem. Anything that jars them out of what’s obviously become a comfortable illusion for both peoples is good—and the sooner the better.

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Some Thoughts on the EU Decision to Separate Israel from the West Bank

Barak Ravid has a blockbuster story in Haaretz: The European Union will now require all its member states to forbid “any funding, cooperation, awarding of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone residing in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.” Even more importantly, the guidelines declare that “any agreement or contract signed by an EU country with Israel include a clause stating that the settlements are not part of the State of Israel and therefore are not part of the agreement.” (Some reports suggest the guidelines will also apply to the Golan Heights.)

In other words, the EU will now explicitly distinguish between Israel and the occupied West Bank; and if Israel wants to continue doing any business with the supra-national organization, it will have to admit to this division and lay the groundwork for a genuine separation of sovereignty.

The details of the guidelines have yet to be published, and Israel’s response could change things a little, too. But it’s hard to imagine the EU throwing out its new directives now. It seems to be something Israel will have to accept and adapt to. Here are some quick thoughts, then, on the implications of the EU decision.

1. It’s another signal that the international community is fed up with simply noting the Israeli occupation, and is taking concrete political, economic, and legal action to try and end it. (See also: Palestinian statehood efforts at the United Nations.) Unless Israel wants to be like North Korea, it will have to start recognizing and abiding by these changes.

2. Given that the European Union is Israel’s largest trading partner, Israel will have no choice but to comply with the guidelines—that is, it will have to admit, in legally binding contracts, that the West Bank don’t belong to Israel and will be excluded from the economic transactions. This builds the foundation for continued international efforts to separate Israel from the West Bank.

3. It’s hard to know exact figures when it comes to the place of settlement products in Israeli trade—one estimate put exports from the settlements to the EU at only about 2% of the overall trading relationship. That still adds up to $300 million; the loss isn’t something to sneeze at. The shortfall will have to be made up, either by increasing trade with other actors or by Israeli government subsidies. This, in turn, will have a negative effect on the government budget, which is already in dire straits, forcing Jerusalem to confront some serious financial and budgetary discrepancies.

4. I don’t think this was part of the EU’s intention, but an EU boycott of the settlements will probably energize the BDS movement—which seeks to isolate Israel (not just the settlements) in all of the areas covered by the new guidelines.

5. Paradoxically, at the same time the EU boycott of settlements might energize domestic forces in Israel and American Jewish or other external groups fighting against the occupation. Ravid quotes EU officials as noting that part of the motivation behind the exclusion of settlements is “to be sure that Israel’s participation is not put in question”—in other words, to make sure that Israel is not boycotted or excluded. The EU’s separation of the West Bank from Israel could be used as proof that the settlements are an albatross around Jerusalem’s neck, but that the country itself isn’t in danger just because others oppose the settlements.

6. Also on the Israeli domestic front, the EU decision might galvanize politicians and parties already predisposed to view the settlements as a major political problem. Yesh Atid’s leader Yair Lapid has already said that the decision “will enhance Israel’s isolation” and that time isn’t on Israel’s side. They may be more willing to take a more active position against the settlement enterprise, and in doing so add further pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a serious effort to restart peace talks with the Palestinians. Similarly, it might breathe new life into the recent efforts by the Labor Party and Meretz to use the occupation as a stick with which to beat the government.

Update: Damien Cristofari, an EU official dealing with the Middle East, tweeted that the directives apply only to EU-funded programs, and won’t affect bilateral agreements between member states and Israel.

Update 2: The EU guidelines are now publicly available. See here.