By Ramona Wadi
A business seminar in Tel Aviv themed “Doing business with the European Union” leaves no doubts as to where the institution’s loyalties lie. Organized by the Delegation of the European Union to Israel, the Foreign Trade Administration, the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, the Israel-Europe Directorate for Research and Innovation (ISERD) and the Israel Export Institute, it provided ample insight into the importance given by the EU to its bilateral trade with Israel.
More importantly, it also sheds light on how the EU’s purported concern over the labeling of settlement products is nothing other than a side-line issue enabling it to maintain its peace-building image and role in disseminating the two-state propaganda.
Imports and exports between Israel and the EU reached a “historical high” and EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret seeks “to increase EU-IL bilateral trade and economic cooperation, especially in fields such as digital economy, energy and creating a climate neutral circular economy.”
The press release also indicates the importance attributed by the EU to economic cooperation with Israel – Giaufret calls it a “unique partnership”.
In February, the European Commission funded workshops aimed at generating Israeli compliance to EU practices and standards. Again, Giaufret described the initiatives as reflecting “the close and important cooperation and alignment of Israel and the European Union in many fields.”
Back in 2016, the EU clearly distinguished between its economic partnerships with Israel and its view on products from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, stressing that it “opposes any boycott of the Jewish state”.
Israel’s short-lived furor over the decision to label settlement products was a necessary sham for both entities. Among the people, settlement products became the phrase related to activism and boycott. For Israel and the EU, the decision provided an ongoing distraction from the fact that any losses as a result of the EU decision were negligible in comparison to the profits of imports and exports with Israel, which the EU deems a legitimate state despite its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
The differentiation between Israel and Israeli settlements had been described as “technical and not political,” in keeping with the fabricated controversy ignited by Israel over the decision. Yet the EU embarked on a political decision legitimizing Zionist violence and land grab while selecting settlement products as a convenient talking point.
Awareness, which is the EU’s talking point, over and above putting an end to human rights violations, has established itself as a legitimate substitute for taking political action to hold Israel accountable for its existence and crimes emanating from its political structure.
According to the EU, Israeli settlements are illegal and Israel is not. This distinction, which is also employed by the international community, is the safest option when it comes to protecting Israel while pretending to uphold Palestinian rights. Even the Palestinian Authority has encouraged normalization of this trend, which by now must be one of the symbolic gestures that generated a plethora of repercussions for Palestinians in terms of their political struggle.
Ultimately, the EU’s relationship with Israel underscores its political agenda. Differentiating between products from settlements and from areas recognized as Israel is tantamount to declaring that settlement expansion has no precedent and no perpetrator.
– Ramona Wadi is a staff writer for Middle East Monitor, where this article was originally published. She contributed this article to the Palestine Chronicle.