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After Rabin: What can EU do on Israel-Palestine

From a European perspective, it seems that both Israelis and Palestinians have lost hope.


Published in EU Observer 5 November 2015

According to one poll, for the first time a majority of Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have given up on a two state solution.

There is certainly a strong despondency, with Palestine's chief negotiator recently admitting that he had been "unable to deliver" an independent Palestinian state after 23 years of negotiations with Israel.
Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu not only promised there would be "no Palestinian state on his watch", he even went so far as to suggest that Palestinians inspired the Holocaust.

The rhetoric is getting worse, not better.

Having grown up in the Middle East myself and as a Scottish member of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, I know that much more is expected from the European Union.

Twenty years ago on Wednesday (4 November), the world lost Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin at the hands of a Jewish extremist who opposed his concessions to secure peace.

The Palestinian Authority had recognised Israel's right to exist on 78 percent of historic Palestinian land, and it renounced violence as a means to end Israel's military occupation of its land.

Rabin had agreed to end the occupation, end most of the settlements, and agreed to make plans for Jerusalem to be the capital of both Israel and Palestine.

Europe in the meantime has only passively followed the now long moribund "peace process", waiting on the US to take the lead.

As European taxpayers, we have contributed billions of euros to provide schools, hospitals, and clean water to the Palestinians. The EU is also supporting the ongoing UN inquiry into the crimes that were perpetrated by both Israel and Hamas in the summer of 2014.

We cannot expect Netanyahu's government to end the occupation if the EU's "bold" policy only consists of requesting that Israel labels its settlement products correctly.

If they are illegal under international law, why then does the EU continue to import them?

Recently Palestine's minister of foreign affairs pointed out to me in Ramallah that the EU has banned the same products that come from Crimea, because it has been illegally annexed by Russia.

As a former lawyer myself, I believe the EU can go further and prevent EU-based companies from issuing bank loans and mortgages to Israeli settlements.

I also think not recognising qualifications earned in settlement-based institutions, as well as putting an end to the tax-exempt status of European charities that deal with Israeli settlements, would be effective steps forward.

In the short term, the EU special envoy must urgently meet with the representatives of Israel's Arab coalition in the Knesset.

This would facilitate dialogue at a time when both communities have lost control over the situation - as of today 11 Israelis and 64 Palestinians have lost their lives since October.

Not only do we have an obligation to condemn the violence and crimes committed, but we must also look closely at the underlying causes in order to stop it.

The Palestinian chief negotiator said this week "People are giving up on me".

When Palestinian moderates are losing, extremists are winning. The EU has no choice but to act decisively now.

The fact of the matter is that the number of Israeli settlers on Palestinian land has increased from 200,000 in 1993 to 600,000 today thanks to an annual contribution of $6 Billion from Israeli public subsidies.

Meanwhile, 4.5 million Palestinians live surrounded by 450 kilometres of wall - which the International Court of Justice said was illegal in 2004, but despite this, it has continued to expand.

In the long term, the EU must lead the way for an international conference that would set clear red-lines to all parties.

The Palestinian Authority is crumbling, Israel's democracy is weakening and extremists are slowly but surely gaining popularity.

European public opinion is shifting towards a boycott of Israel's apartheid state as I can witness in Scotland, my own constituency.

Every effort counts, whether it is treating Israelis and Palestinians equally by recognising Palestine's statehood - as Sweden and the Vatican recently did - or by calling Palestine "Palestine", as the European Parliament finally decided to last September.

Hope is the only way to move forward - on my latest trip to Israel I found hope in the work of Israeli theatre director Gal Hurvitz who, every day, gathers young Palestinians and Jewish Israelis to perform together.

My constituents hope to see them in Scotland's Edinburgh Festival next summer.

There will be no peace without justice.

That is why the EU's action plan with the International Criminal Court must support accountability for all crimes on all sides, as we in the European Parliament have requested.

As long as the EU and its Member States - notably the UK - tolerate impunity and settlements and allows such strong double-standards as its behaviour on Crimea/Palestine, we will be wasting our time, our money and our credibility as Europeans.