Israel in Trouble with Europe

Signs are appearing in Europe that the Israeli hawks are finding it more difficult to operate with impunity. Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli military attack on virtually defenseless Gaza last winter appears to have wrought significant damage on Israel’s image and standing, and opened it to punitive measures and even boycotts in Europe, unlike previous military misadventures. I suspect that the sheer helplessness of the Gazans helps explain the bad odor in which Israel increasingly finds itself.

The United Kingdom has revoked 5 export licenses for weapons to Israel out of concern that the naval equipment already sold to the latter was misused against civilians during the Gaza War, and might be again. The move won’t exactly bring Tel Aviv to its knees, but it has a symbolic import, since no similar measures were taken after the Israeli use of cluster bombs against the farms (and farmers) of southern Lebanon in 2006.

The UK also disallowed an Israeli advertisement to tourists that showed the West Bank and Gaza as already incorporated into Israel.

Even many of the Israeli soldiers involved in the Gaza invasion are happy to condemn the orders that came from their government.

Then, the Jerusalem office of the European Commission (the executive of the European Union) issued a statement on Israeli colonization of the West Bank that the Israelis characterized as “unusually harsh” (though it was actually just unusually frank). The statement is summarized by Mel Frykberg:

‘The European Commission (EC), the executive arm of the EU, said that Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank was strangling the Palestinian economy and forcing Palestinians there to become more dependent on foreign aid. “It is the European taxpayers who pay most of the price of this dependence,” read the Jul. 6 EC statement. According to the EC, expropriation of fertile Palestinian land for the settlements, the settler-only bypass roads which serve them, and the hundreds of West Bank checkpoints manned by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have stunted Palestinian economic growth.’

The statement makes it clear that one source of annoyance to Europe is the way Israel’s policies are so injurious to the welfare of the Palestinians that Europe is forced to intervene with foreign aid for them, a philanthropy the continent can ill afford at this point. If Palestinians were not so repressed and circumscribed in the West Bank and Gaza, they could make their own way in the world, and would not need handouts from the EU.

Under Israeli pressure, the European Council backed down somewhat from the statement, though it continued to condemn the conditions of dependency imposed on Palestinians by Israeli settlement policy.

What is remarkable is that any office of the European Commission dared critique the colonization of the West Bank publicly and frankly in the first place.

Javier Solana, more or less the foreign minister of Europe, called for the recognition of a Pelstinian state by the world community by a date certain, regardless of the Israeli position.

Israel’s war last winter on little Gaza achieved virtually none of its real (as opposed to its announced) aims. There had not been any rocket fire from Hamas against Israel during the period of cease-fire in 2008. Israel violated the cease-fire and even thereafter, no Israelis were killed in the lead-up to the invasion. The Israeli high command clearly were hoping to dramatically weaken the purchase over Gaza of the fundamentalist Hamas Party, which had won the 2006 parliamentary elections in the Palestine Authority but then been confined to Gaza in an American- and Israel-backed coup in 2007. In fact, the Israeli military discovered that there was both less and more to Hamas than met the eye. It did not have significant military capabilities whereby it could confront the Israeli invasion. On the other hand, its survival in the face of Operation Cast Lead added to its prestige as a resistance organization, and increased its popularity not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank, which is PLO territory.

I don’t say that Europe is likely to take practical steps any time soon with regard to Israeli colonization of the Palestinians, who are among the few peoples in the world deprived of citizenship in a state. But I do say that EU offices and officials have begun recognizing the problem as one of Israeli will. This outbreak of frankness in Europe is only a faint sliver of dawn. But it could portend a sea change.

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