Enough symbolic votes, it is time to take real action on Israel

The EU vote on Palestinian statehood shows that Europe is still far from taking decisive action against Israel’s crimes.

Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip was prominently unpopular within the EU, writes Jantti [Getty Images]

On Wednesday, December 17, the European Parliament willvote on a resolution to formally recognise a Palestinian state. The non-binding motion in Strasbourg takes place in the midst of a wave of parliamentary recommendations in support of Palestinian statehood across European national legislatures.

Last Wednesday, the lower house of the Irish parliamentcalled for the Irish government to recognise Palestine as a state. The motion sailed through the Dail unopposed. A day after the Irish move, the French senatefollowed suit, urging the French cabinet to recognise an independent state of Palestine. The French senators voted for ratifying an earlier decision by the national assembly.

And on Friday, the Portuguese parliamentbecame the third EU member state in only three days, and the sixth European assembly since October, to turn to this symbolic gesture.

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The only western EU member state to have gone a step further has been Sweden. In October, the Swedish government officially recognised Palestinian statehood, affirming, in the words of the country’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom: “The Palestinians’ right to self-determination.”

The Palestinian Authority, itself suffering from a substantial credibility deficit among the Palestinian public, and the EU have both decided to continue to breathe life into what is known as “the peace process” with a new UN resolution calling for return to negotiations. The primary achievement of this diplomatic extravaganza has been that Israel continues to colonise, occupy and pacify the West Bank at full speed. In the eyes of many Palestinians, this resolution will lead to nowhere.

The EU is clearly dragging its feet on taking real and meaningful measures against Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The EU has potent tools at its disposal; vacuous symbolic statehood recognition is not one of them.

‘Protective edge’ effect

Although the EU vote on Palestine will not change much, it is important to note that it comes at a time when a slow-paced transformation of EU-Israel relations can be noticed. A survey on the diplomatic history of the political and economic interaction between Europe and Israel for the past decades reveals that Europe has recently entered into a transitional phase from unreserved assistance to Israel’s breaches of international law to mounting wariness towards the manner in which Israel carries on.

Israel’s 51-day assault on the Gaza Strip in July and August all but altered this trajectory. Quite the contrary, Israel’s massacre of 2,200 Gazans, of whom approximately three quarters were civilians, including 500 children, was prominently unpopular within the EU.

In “Operation Protective Edge”, Israel injured 11,000 Palestinians, of whom 3,300 were children. Israel permanently disabled 1,000 children. Israel either obliterated or caused severe damage to 360 factories and workshops, 160 mosques, 100 schools and 10 hospitals. The Israeli assault left 100,000 Palestinians homeless.

on As human rights organisations reported how the Israeli forces “directly attacked civilian objects” and documented that Israel committed “war crimes“, it appeared probable that also the official Europe, not just the broad public, would begin to demonstrate its disapproval. For example, Spain seized weapons exports to Israel and the Finnish foreign minister brought up the prospect of “sanctions” that the EU could impose on Israel due to fact that the “Palestinian territories have been occupied for 47 years”.

Taking non-symbolic measures

A multitude of factors – including the EU ban on settlement products, opinion polls tracking Israel’s standing in a number of EU countries and the ongoing parliamentary votes calling for recognition of Palestinian statehood – indicate that Europeans are beginning to challenge the Israeli party line. This shift in Israel’s image in Europe is starting to show also on the level of state policy.

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For the EU, the rhetorical endeavour of recognising a fictitious Palestinian state in a geographical area that has been thoroughly disintegrated and colonised by Israel while having pursued and still pursuing large-scale EU-Israel bilateral commerce and maintaining cordial diplomatic relations is hardly a milestone in consistent policy-making.

Furthermore, the insatiable eagerness of the EU to conduct multibillion euro commerce with the very military-industrial complex that has executed the murderous military occupation and thorough disintegration of Palestinian territories is a flagrant disservice to the struggle for a just solution to the conflict.

For the rights of the Palestinian people to be upheld, Israeli rejectionism must be challenged hard – and, in all likelihood, for a sustained period of time. While acknowledging that some of the measures undertaken by the EU do have a silver lining to them as they are a sign of EU reconsidering its former utterly docile modus operandi towards Israel, one cannot but conclude that Europe is not exerting even a fraction of the required pressure on Israel.

The EU has a plethora of efficacious procedures to choose from: It can suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement, immediately discontinue all weapons exports to Israel and impose sanctions on Israel for its ever-continuing violations of international law.

Non-binding, symbolic parliamentary votes in national parliaments or in Strasbourg do not change the reality that the EU’s current policy towards Israel-Palestine still fosters Israel’s expansionist occupation-powered apartheid regime more than it assists the efforts to enforce the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

Bruno Jantti is an investigative journalist specialising in international politics.