EU, Israel and the Palestinian Territories: A Multi-Layered Reality
by Dr Lorenzo Kamel (August 10, 2015)
This is particularly meaningful considering that much of the products originating from settlements are destined to Israeli markets and that most of the natural resources exploited by Israeli companies in the Palestinian Territories are aimed to the benefit of Israeli citizens (about 94 percent of the materials produced in the Israeli quarries in the West Bank is transported to Israel). In violation of the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907 and other principles of customary international law, natural resources are in great percentage not used for the needs of the local majority.
These and a wide range of other related aspects are analyzed in Fragmented Borders, Interdependence and External Relations: The Israel-Palestine-European Union Triangle (Palgrave), an edited volume published in June 2015 by Raffaella A. Del Sarto, a part-time professor at the European University Institute’s Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies. It is an outstanding academic accomplishment that sheds light on power relations and more specifically on the multi-layered reality of ties connecting the EU, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
In one of the most interesting chapters of the book, Neve Gordon and Sharon Pardo lingered on the alleged double standard applied by the EU in Western Sahara and the Palestinian Territories. According to the two authors, there is “a crucial difference between the two cases, whose significance all of these scholars fail to underscore. Namely, that in the Western Sahara case, the EU had signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) only with Morocco and not with an other entity that lays claim to the disputed territory; while in our case, the EU had also signed a FTA with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)”. Gordon and Pardo also stressed that each of the two FTAs, with Israel and the PLO, has its own territorial scope and that “there is no overlapping between the two”.
Notwithstanding the relevance of Gordon and Pardo’s standpoint, it is important to stress that East Jerusalem and the Golan heights are not covered by the EU-Israel Association Agreement, nor by the EU-PLO Agreement, which explicitly refers only to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Thus, goods produced in East Jerusalem (almost always explicitly mentioned in other EU decisions or agreements) and the Golan heights are or might be deprived of the possibility of benefiting from trade concessions while exported to the EU. The fate of origin certification for occupied territories other than the West Bank remains unresolved and this mainly affects Palestinians, while it has little effects on Israel and the state-funded settlements and facilites in the Palestinian Territories. In fact, EU FTA agreements do not prevent Israeli products containing materials obtained from the occupied territories from receiving preferential tariffs “provided that the said materials have undergone sufficient working or processing in Israel”.
On top of this, as the 2010 ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the Brita case confirmed, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), despite being the only authority entitled to issue origin certificates for goods originating in the West Bank, is largely unable to exercise its authority in most of the area. While Israel’s state subsidies and the mortgages, grants, and loans provided by the Israeli banks allow settlers to find alternatives ways to obviate to the lack of benefits provided by the association agreements, Palestinian businesses are deprived of these options or advantages.
As argued in a policy brief published a few days ago by the European Council on Foreign Relation (ECFR), Europe “cannot legally escape from its duty to differentiate” between Israel and its activities in Palestinian Territories, and this differentiation “is one of most impactful tools at the EU’s disposal for challenging the incentive structure underpinning Israeli support for the status quo”. Yet, the EU – that imports approximately fifteen times more from the settlements than from the Palestinians themselves – must first and foremost better define the territorial scope of its association agreements and to bind its generous research and development subsidies – including the ones provided to the Israeli army, which operates massively in the Palestinian Territories – to the PNA’s capability to exercise its functions in the West Bank. In the absence of more concrete and neat strategies, and without also reconsidering its policies in a context in many respects unique such as the one of Western Sahara, the EU risks to generate sterile or largely symbolic efforts.
*Dr Lorenzo Kamel is Research Fellow (2013-16) at Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Associate Fellow at Rome's Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI).
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