Next week, the European Parliament in Strasbourg will vote on a Protocol to the EU-Israel Association Agreement (officially known as the “Euro-Mediterranean Agreement establishing an association between the European Community and its Member States and the State of Israel”). If passed, this Protocol on “Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products” (link here) would represent an upgrading of trade relations between the EU and Israel and would give a green light from the EU to Israel to continue with its oppression of Palestinians.
It would be a continuation of the EU policy of crocodile tears about gross breaches of human rights by the Israeli state and verbal support for a Palestinian state, at the same time as providing political and economic support to Israel and attempting to integrate it into the European economy.
In its essence, this is a Protocol to remove technical barriers to trade through the common recognition of standards. In this case, it applies to the pharmaceutical industry, but additional sectors may be added later on with additional Annexes to the Protocol. The Commission and the MEPs who support this Protocol claim that it is simply a ‘technical agreement’ implementing the already agreed Action Plan. This is not accurate; it does represent an upgrading of trade relations. It would make it significantly easier for trade between the EU and Israel in pharmaceutical goods. This would de facto represent the first entry of Israel into the ‘single market’.
This Protocol was ‘frozen’ since the end of 2008, with the brutal onslaught of Israel on Gaza, the so-called ‘Operation Castlead’. The Commission and the right-wing in the Parliament have since then pushed to unfreeze it. In the International Trade Committee in September, they were successful in proposing to the Parliament that the EU should consent to this Protocol. The vote was tight, 15-13 in favour of consent. The Liberal group, who hold the balance of power, split three ways (one voting in favour, one against and one abstention), the result giving the green light to this Protocol. Those against were the Social Democrats, the Greens and the European United Left group, for which I am the MEP responsible for this issue.
After this vote, ‘Palestinians for Dignity’ organised a sit-in outside the EU offices in Ramallah against this upgrading of relations. |Their highlighting of the “EU’s hypocritical and duplicitous positions towards the Palestinian people” is absolutely correct.
One additional and the most concrete concern is that this Protocol may result in goods produced in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories entering into the European market. This is something that is even opposed by the European Commission. However, the Commission denies that the Protocol can be used in this way, but without delivering the necessary binding guarantees which would limit the scope of competence in order to exclude the settlements.
As a result, there are attempts to add an ‘interpretative declaration’ to what will be passed by Parliament, to be made by the European Council in order to clarify that it does not include products produced in the settlements. While we in the Left group support such a declaration being added, and together with the Greens group have proposed a stronger, legally more ‘watertight’ version of the declaration than that proposed by members of the Social Democrats and the Liberals, it is insufficient. Even if the ‘declaration’ amendment passes in the Parliament, the Protocol as a whole must be voted down.
This is for two reasons. Firstly, the legal status of the request for an ‘interpretative declaration’ is questionable. Even if it passes, the Council will be under no obligation to make the statement. Even if they do make the statement, there is no guarantee that settlement products won’t benefit.
Secondly, even if settlement goods could be excluded, the Protocol should still be rejected. That is because, regardless of whether settlement goods are included or not, trade relations with the state of Israel should not be upgraded, while the brutal oppression of Palestinians, including the continuing building of further illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories, continues.
If the Protocol passes, the current right wing and government of Benjamin Netanyahu will interpret this as an endorsement from the EU of the oppression of the Palestinians. The blockade of Gaza continues to condemn almost two million people to live in an open air prison camp. A recent report by the UN says that it will soon not be a ‘liveable place’.
Israel currently seems to be preparing to assault yet another peaceful ship, the Estelle, sailing to Gaza to break the blockade. The assault on Palestinians in East Jerusalem continues with an attempt to force Arabs out of Jerusalem through the demolition of their houses. No upgrading of trade relations with Israel should occur while this oppression persists. In fact, trade relations should be suspended.
The right-wings forces in the parliament mobilised for this vote in the International Trade Committee and carried the day back in September. Next week’s vote is very important. A massive campaign of pressure should be waged by those active against the oppression of the Palestinians. As happened with ACTA, MEPs should be bombarded with protest letters, together with the organisation of protests and other actions.
Helpfully, the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) has created an easy system for people to contact their MEPs. Please take a moment to do so.