The European Union’s Position on Israel’s Annexation Plans

Since the announcement of the so-called “Deal of the Century,” those who followed the European Union’s foreign policy have witnessed its promises to impose sanctions and suspend agreements with the Israeli government if it unilaterally carries out any changes on the ground.

Written by: Iman Sa’adeh

Since the announcement of the so-called “Deal of the Century,” those who followed the European Union’s foreign policy have witnessed its promises to impose sanctions and suspend agreements with the Israeli government if it unilaterally carries out any changes on the ground. Every time the Israeli government announces any political move towards removing international recognition that accompanies the rapid changes Israel is making in the occupied Palestinian territories, the EU waves a “carrot and stick” approach, threatening to cancel or freeze the agreements signed with Israel, particularly, the trade agreement with the EU. This agreement, which entered into force in 2000, provides Israel with the opportunity to enter the largest European common market. There are other agreements, such as allowing Israel to export agricultural products to the European market since 2008 and cooperating in the fields of defense, security and technology.

France held many meetings in the EU’s institutions with the participation of Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden to warn against the consequences of Israel taking unilateral steps.  Eleven ambassadors of European countries registered a demarche with Israel’s Foreign Ministry on April 30, warning against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex parts of the West Bank. Following, the Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, Nicolas de Rivière, told the Security Council, “Such steps, if implemented, would not pass unchallenged and shall not be overlooked in our relationship with Israel.”

Following the endeavors of the European Union to make a diplomatic push to try to stop Israel from going ahead with its plan to annex parts of the West Bank,  the European Council called for a meeting with EU ministers, responsible for matters relating to foreign affairs, to discuss  possible responses to unilateral moves by Israel. This meeting, held on 15.05.2020, was preceded by public promises with the intention of the Union, this time, to impose sanctions on the Israeli government to curb its policies towards violating international law and the agreements signed with the Palestinian side. Voices within the Union, including from politicians supportive of the Palestinian cause, have expressed the necessity of taking such actions to ensure the commitment of the states and the Israeli government to international law and the international system as a whole, maintaining international peace and security. Following the meeting, an unexpected statement was issued, for it included a short statement that entailed its support for a negotiated two-state solution, without directly referring to the issue of Israel’s annexation plans or to any possible European sanctions. As the foreign ministers went on to discuss the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, which focuses on Turkish encroachments on the maritime border of Greece and Cyprus, many interpreted this as the Union’s failure to take any decision to impose sanctions against Israel’s government.

Although Josep Borrell, European Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, issued a statement congratulating Israel on the formation of its new government, he also said that the EU was willing to help restart long-dormant peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He stated that: “International law is a fundamental pillar of the international rules-based order. In this respect, the EU and its member states recall that they will not recognize any changes to the 1967 borders unless agreed by Israelis and Palestinians.” He further added that: “the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the future capital for both states, is the only way to ensure sustainable peace and stability in the region.” Borrell also said that the EU viewed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to push forward with annexation with “grave concern.”

How did Israeli diplomacy break the European consensus?

The Israeli lobby worked within the European Union on two levels, driven by the public announcements of the EU to adopt a set of punitive measures against the Israeli government, including the prevention from entering into trade agreements with the bloc. At the first level, Israel guaranteed that Hungary and the Czech Republic would stand alongside their decision, posing an obstacle to the EU Council in passing any decisions through consensus of the member states. Although full unanimity is not mandatory, there are other member states that do not support the adoption of sanctions and prefer to build on diplomatic pressures on Israel. In recent years, the Israeli government has strengthened cooperation with these members, including Germany and the Baltic states, away from the institutions of the European Union.

As for the second level, which stems from the Israeli government’s fear that some countries of the Union unilaterally adopt anti-Israeli policies, the Israeli lobby, with the support of the government and the right-wing Israeli parties, worked to build strong relations within the EU. Some Israeli experts described these relations as toxic and accused the right-wing Israeli government of playing with fire by cooperating with right-wing extremist and populist parties in the European Parliament, which constitute 112 seats distributed among the nationalist and populist parties. On the other hand, this provided them with the ability to influence the EU Parliament, which has increased their representation in the recent elections in the member states of the Union, including the parties of: Lega Nord (Northern League for the Independence of Padania), the Alternative for Germany, the Spanish Vox, the French National Rally and the Freedom Party of Austria.

With the growing debate on the nature of the Israeli government’s relationship with these parties, as a result of its national identity and philosophy, the Israeli government is building short-term relationships by changing the conditions and forces that exist in the institutions of the European Union. The Israeli government invests in relationships with parties that have common interests, such as the opposition of the entry of refugees for fear of the growing number of Muslims in the European continent.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor. 

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