Belgium is furious. On Nov. 6, the Brussels government condemned Israel’s destruction of Belgian-funded homes in the West Bank. Understandably, it wants the Israeli government to pay compensation for the unwarranted destruction. The Israeli response was swift: A resounding “no.”
This diplomatic row is likely to fizzle out soon. Israel will not cease its illegal demolitions of Palestinian homes and structures in the West Bank, while Belgium — or any other EU country for that matter — will not receive a dime from Tel Aviv.
Welcome to the bizarre world of European foreign policy in Palestine and Israel.
The EU still champions a two-state solution and advocates international law regarding the legality of the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories. To make that possible, the EU has, for nearly four decades, funded Palestinian infrastructure as part of a state-building scheme.
It is common knowledge that Israel rejects international law, the two-state solution and any kind of outside “pressure” regarding its military occupation. To back its position with action, Israel has been actively and systematically destroying EU-funded projects in Palestine. In doing so, it aims to send a message to the Europeans that their role in supporting the Palestinian quest for statehood is vehemently rejected. In 2019 alone, 204 Palestinian structures were demolished in East Jerusalem, according to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor. Included in this destruction — in addition to similar demolitions in the West Bank’s Area C — were 127 structures funded mostly by EU member states.
Despite the fact that Israel has been on a crash course with the EU for years, the bloc remains Israel’s No. 1 trade partner. Worse, European nations and Israel also have many arms import and export deals. But the contradictions do not end there.
In November 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled that EU countries must identify products that are made in illegal Israeli settlements on their labels — a decision that was seen as an important first step toward holding Israel accountable for its occupation. But, bizarrely, European activists who promote boycotts of Israeli products have been tried and indicted in European courts, based on the flimsy claim that such boycotts fall into the category of “anti-Semitism.” France, Germany and others have utilized their judicial system to criminalize the legitimate protesting of the Israeli occupation.
Further European contradictions and confused policies are evident. In September, Germany, France, Belgium and other EU members spoke firmly at the UN against Israeli demolitions, which largely targeted EU-funded infrastructure. In their statement, the EU countries noted that “the period from March to August 2020 saw the highest average destruction rate in four years.” However, because of the absence of any meaningful European action on the Palestinian front, Israel is no longer worried by the European position, no matter how rhetorically strong it is.
Just consider the Belgian position on the destruction of four Palestinian homes that it funded in the village of Al-Rakeez, near Hebron. “This essential infrastructure was built with Belgian funding, as part of humanitarian aid implemented by the West Bank Protection Consortium. Our country asks Israel for compensation or restitution for these destructions,” the Belgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement this month. Now, marvel at the Israeli response, as communicated in a statement issued by Israel’s Foreign Ministry: “Donor states should utilize their taxpayer’s (sic) money towards the funding of legal constructions and projects in territories that are controlled by Israel, and make sure those are planned and executed in accordance with the law and in coordination with the relevant Israeli authorities.”
But are the Europeans violating any laws by helping the Palestinians build schools, hospitals and homes in the Occupied Territories? And what so-called law is Israel following when it systematically destroys hundreds of EU-funded Palestinian structures?
Needless to say, the EU support for Palestinians is consistent with international law, which recognizes the responsibility of all UN member states in helping an occupied nation achieve its independence. It is, rather, Israel that stands in violation of numerous UN resolutions, which have repeatedly demanded an immediate halt to its illegal settlement activities, home demolitions and military occupation.
Israel, however, has never been held accountable for its obligations under international law. So, when the Israeli Foreign Ministry speaks of “law,” it refers only to the unwarranted decisions made by the Israeli government and Knesset, such as this year’s plan to illegally annex a massive swath of Palestinian land in Area C of the West Bank, which is where most of the demolitions are taking place.
Israel considers that, by funding Palestinian projects in Area C, the EU is deliberately attempting to thwart its annexation plans in this region. The Israeli message to Europe is very clear: Cease and desist, or the demolitions will go on. Israeli arrogance has reached the point that, according to the Euro-Med monitor, in 2014 it destroyed a Belgian-funded electrification project in the village of Khirbet Al-Tawil, even though it was installed in coordination with the area’s Israeli civil administration.
Because of the absence of any meaningful European action on the Palestinian front, Israel is no longer worried by the European position.
Alas, despite the occasional protest, EU members are getting the message. The total number of internationally funded projects in Area C shrank to 12 in 2019, compared to 75 just four years earlier. The number of projects in 2020 is likely to be even lower. The EU may continue to condemn and protest the Israeli demolitions, but angry statements and demands for compensation will fall on deaf ears if not backed by action.
The EU has much leverage over Israel. Not only is it refusing to leverage its high trade numbers and military hardware, but it is also punishing European civil society organizations for daring to challenge Tel Aviv. The problem, then, is not typical Israeli obstinacy alone, but also Europe’s own foreign policy miscalculation — or even outright failure.