Last week, a political storm broke out in Jerusalem over the European Commission’s new guidelines barring the funding of entities operating in Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 borders.
Although unlikely to have any major impact on actual funding practices, the guidelines sparked accusations of bad faith and even anti-Semitism from many Israeli opinion-makers. Others, such as former director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry Alon Liel, have deemed the move “an act of friendship and support” for their country.
Regardless of one’s political outlook, Europe’s refusal to subsidize continued settlement expansion should come as no surprise. For 46 years, the European community has stated consistently and unequivocally that it regards Israel’s expansion onto occupied territory (though, significantly, not the occupation itself) as illegal – a position shared by the United States, Canada, and the International Court of Justice... not to mention Israel’s own justice minister and legal advisors in 1967.
In addition to being illegal, Israel’s settlement policy was designed, according to its architects, to thwart the creation of a Palestinian state. In the words of former deputy defence minister Mordechai Zippori, settlements were “the only means to defeat any peace initiative” seeking to give the Palestinians a state.
For years, advocates of the settlements have made every effort to erase the boundary between Israel and the occupied territories, arguing against any distinction between Tel Aviv and Ariel. Yet the world has not lost sight of the fact that in the West Bank, unlike in Israel, people are governed by military decree, detention without trial is commonplace, and one’s civil and political rights depend on one’s religion. In clearly signalling that this is not Israel, the EU is in fact going a long way to preserving the Jewish state’s legitimacy and staving off rising calls for a total boycott.
There are those who claim that applying any sort of pressure on Israel to alter its policies is counterproductive to the cause of peace, because it rewards Palestinian intransigence. Indeed, Israeli officials were quick to adopt this line last week, lambasting the recent European move as “a final blow to the chances of renewing the peace process.” Nevertheless, less than 24 hours after the guidelines were published, the first Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in three years were announced by John Kerry.
History has demonstrated that outside pressure is often necessary to bring warring parties to the negotiating table. In 1971, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat offered to negotiate peace with Israel on the basis of an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. The Israeli government adamantly refused. It was only after the Yom Kippur War and the ensuing Arab oil embargo cost Israel nearly 3000 lives and diplomatic ties with nearly a dozen countries that Israel agreed to negotiate with Egypt on the same terms – and even then, only with heavy US intervention. This intervention resulted in the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, which brought lasting quiet to a border which in 25 years had witnessed four bloody wars.
Similarly, in 1991 the US and the Soviet Union convened the Madrid Conference in order to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table for the first time. Then too, a reluctant Israel only agreed to take part after US president George H.W. Bush threatened to withhold $10 billion in loan guarantees.
Israelis have never been more comfortable than they are today. Israel receives unprecedented economic, diplomatic, and military backing from the world’s most powerful nations, while its settlements grow exponentially. Just as in the past, Israeli complacency with the status quo means that its ultra-nationalist government will not likely pursue peace with its neighbours in the absence of outside inducement.
The EU’s new guidelines demonstrate that it is possible for the international community to actively advance pro-peace policies in the region without being anti-Israel. The EU will continue to be Israel’s largest trading partner, will continue contributing hundreds of millions of Euros to its development, and will continue to lend its considerable diplomatic clout to defending Israel’s legitimacy within international forums. Israel’s, but not the settlements’.
Canada, like the EU, values its fruitful and constructive relationship with Israel, and like the EU it has committed itself to advancing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet Canada, unlike the EU, has not demonstrated the willingness to act upon these principles. Even as our government formally opposes Israel’s settlements, it hypocritically provides tax subsidies to charities which support their growth and accords preferential trade tariffs to settlement products.
If the world, including Canada, wants to demonstrate its commitment both to the state of Israel and to advancing a peaceful two-state solution, it must make clear to the Israeli government, through actions as well as words, that it will not treat the settlements and Israel as one and the same.
Daniel Haboucha is a graduate of McGill Law School, and returns to Montreal after a year of study in Jerusalem as a 2012-13 Dorot Fellow.
Dr. Neil Caplan, a member of Tolerance.ca, currently holds Affiliate status in the Department of History at Concordia University and is the author of The Israel-Palestine Conflict: Contested Histories.