Jerusalem24 – A coalition of 62 prominent Palestinian and European civil society organizations sent an urgent letter on 26 September to European Foreign Ministers and to the EU High Representative Josep Borrell, in which they demand the EU review its decision to renew the EU-Israel Association Council.
The EU is preparing to resume its Association Council with Israel in early October after a 10-year hiatus. Israel canceled the annual talks in 2013 in protest over an EU decision to label products originating from illegal Israeli settlements and deny them preferential trade tariffs.
For a number of years, individual EU member states have also prevented the meetings from taking place, calling for more progress on peace with the Palestinians before moving towards closer EU-Israel ties.
The EU-Israel Association Agreement was signed in 1995 and came into force in 2000, and provides the legal basis for defining relations between the EU and Israel in areas such as political issues, economic and scientific development, and free trade arrangements.
“Sacrificing human rights”
Palestinian NGO Al-Haq, one of the signatories to the letter, said in a statement on Facebook: “If this high-level meeting takes place, it would further normalise authoritarian and oppressive Israeli practices and crimes against the Palestinian people and Palestinian civil society. Recently, the EU has also signed a new gas deal with Israel and Egypt, that whitewashes Israeli crimes.”
Al-Haq General Director Shawan Jabarin told Jerusalem24 in an interview July that there was “no logic” to reconvening the Council: “The Israelis are killing the Palestinians, confiscating more lands, expanding the settlements: all of these are reasons for the Europeans to pull out of this association agreement.”
Amnesty International issued a statement on 23 September saying the EU “should not sacrifice human rights in the name of reviving relations.”
The civil society letter to the EU points out that the EU remains Israel’s largest trade partner: “By allowing European companies, governments and financial institutions to continue trade with the Israeli illegal settlement enterprise, the EU not only maintains but emboldens the very existence of these war crimes, further financing the Israeli theft of Palestinian land and natural resources.”
Reviving the “peace process”
The EU has defended reconvening the Council since the announcement in July.
An EU official told EURACTIV website in an interview on 26 September that the meeting would “provide an opportunity to engage on all topics related to EU-Israel relations, including human rights and the Middle East Peace Process.”
The civil society letter, however, calls the EU’s decision “disconnected from reality”.
“Deepening the EU-Israel dialogue – as frank as some EU Member States wish for it to be – rather than holding the latter accountable through meaningful actions, continues to treat Israel as a good faith actor as opposed to a ‘bad faith occupier’.”
“Instead, the Association Council will further normalise authoritarian and oppressive practices instead of democratic values and human rights, and will continue to omit the entrenching violations under international law that are being committed against the Palestinian people.”