Palestinian farmers
Palestinian farmers harvest olives in the West Bank. Photo by Gil Cohen-Magen
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The Palestinians have had to freeze their application to become a member state of the International Olive Council due to opposition by Germany and Britain.

According to European diplomatic sources, German and British representatives claimed that letting the Palestinians join the council could sabotage the Israeli-Palestinian talks now taking place under American auspices. The talks’ resumption was conditioned on Israel releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a Palestinian promise not to try to join various UN organizations, and not address the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The Palestinian application, which was prepared this summer by the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry in Ramallah in the name of the State of Palestine, was supposed to be voted on at an olive council meeting in Madrid this week.

Representatives of the European External Action Service argued that the council is purely a technical organization, and therefore does not fall in the category of the organizations that the Palestinians promised not to join. Moreover, they argued, membership would give the Palestinians access to technical assistance in an industry vital to their economy. But this view didn’t sway Britain and Germany, both of which opposed the application.

The European Union’s member states are represented on the olive council by a single joint delegation, so if these states are unable to reach a consensus on a given issue, the rule is that the EU delegation must abstain from voting.

Therefore, despite the External Action Service’s support for their bid, the Palestinians realized that the European Union’s vote wouldn’t be cast in their favor, and preferred not to suffer a diplomatic failure. Instead, they decided to postpone their application to a more opportune moment, Palestinian officials told Haaretz.

A German Foreign Ministry official said in a statement: “The vote in this decision has not yet taken place and will be taken by the EU, not Germany. The German position related to questions on Palestinian statehood is well known.” No British response was forthcoming.

The Office of the European Union Representative in East Jerusalem said: “The membership to the IOC is in line with Palestinian institution-building efforts which the EU continues to support and has worked on for years. In that context, the EU looks favorably at improving Palestinian technical capacity in the olive oil sector.”

Last October, the PA Foreign Ministry urged the International Olive Council to take urgent action to protect olive trees in the West Bank from settler attacks. It also urged the international community, and particularly members of the Quartet (the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia), to condemn these attacks.

According to data collected by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost 10,000 Palestinian olive trees and saplings in the West Bank have been uprooted or damaged in direct attacks by Israelis since the start of 2013, up from about 8,500 in 2012.

Asked about this issue, the Office of the European Union Representative in East Jerusalem told Haaretz: “The EU has condemned continuous settler violence towards Palestinian farmers and deliberate provocations against Palestinian civilians. It constantly calls on the Israeli authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice and to comply with its obligations under international law.”