Opinion |

Europe, Don't Join in Trump's Grotesque Victory Dance With Israel's Settlers

Too many European states find countless excuses not to voice public support for clear EU positions on Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. The latest test of their moral and legal backbone - or lack of it - is coming up at the United Nations

Saeb Erekat
Saeb Erekat
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An Israeli soldier takes a selfie with an Israeli settler dressed as U.S. President Donald Trump as during the Jewish Purim holiday. Shuhada Street, divided West Bank town of Hebron. March 01, 2018
An Israeli soldier takes a selfie with an Israeli settler dressed as U.S. President Donald Trump as during the Jewish Purim holiday. Shuhada Street, divided West Bank town of Hebron. March 01, 2018Credit: AFP
Saeb Erekat
Saeb Erekat

A few days ago, we witnessed one of the most grotesquely symbolic events ever seen from a U.S. administration: Trump's ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and his special envoy Jason Greenblatt, inaugurated an Israeli settler project in the heart of the Palestinian village of Silwan, in occupied East Jerusalem, only a few hundred meters away from the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.

This was a celebration of colonization par excellence, with settlers, their donors, and their main political supporters all together delivering a triumphal message for their cause.

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Israeli settlers have been garnering support from another, unexpected direction: Several European countries are now providing cover for the Israeli occupation. They refuse any efforts to hold Israel accountable for its half-century colonial occupation of Palestine, its violations of UN resolutions and its systematic denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination.

Europe's position, as a matter of EU consensus, is in theory, principled: It supports the two-state solution, and a sovereign, independent State of Palestine on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. But in practice, most EU member states are refusing to take any concrete measures against Israel's occupation.

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Even more than that, Europe still trades freely with Israeli settlement products. No EU state has implemented the guidelines regarding labelling settlement produce adopted in 2015; several European organizations continue to provide funds for Israeli settlements; settlers benefit from bilateral Israeli-EU agreements just as European companies continue to cooperate with the Israeli occupation.

But when the Palestinians and leading human rights organizations ask for minimum measures, such as support for the database of companies involved in the Israeli occupation to be compiled by the United Nations, many European states find countless excuses not to voice public support.

By not taking a clear position supporting this database, which was approved by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016, European countries are effectively telling the Palestinian people that diplomacy won't move the situation forward. And, while they proffer more gifts for settlers, they're providing the Israeli occupation with yet another layer of impunity.

This lack of support is part of a broader issue in the UN Human Rights Council. In 2012, the Council decided to set up a fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements. At that moment, Israel began to boycott Item 7, a permanent agenda item agreed on in 2007 to report on Israeli violations in the occupied territories of Palestine and other Arab countries. That policy was driven by then-foreign minister - and settler himself - Avigdor Lieberman.

A few years later other countries followed Israel, mainly from Europe. And what did they achieve? Has Israel stopped its systematic violations of international law, human rights, and UN resolutions?

An Israeli soldier takes aim at Palestinian protesters during clashes following a rally against the occupation in the village of Azmut, in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. June 28, 2019Credit: AFP

It has not. But regardless, several European states have decided that it's "unfair" to "single out" the only UN member state who has never honored one single resolution by the UN.

The elimination of Item 7 from the UN human rights agenda is a key goal for Israeli diplomats, who defend Israel's colonization and denial of Palestinian rights. Their arguments are as baseless as their claims that Israeli settlements, tantamount to war crimes under international law, are not an obstacle to peace.

Israel is not being "singled out." Its occupation is.

But if we're talking about European double standards on Israel, maybe it's not a bad idea for those EU states that claim to "share the values of democracy, human rights and rule of law" with Israel, to start talking about the over 50 discriminatory laws against non-Jewish citizens in Israel, including the Jewish nation state law that grants the right to self-determination only to Jews in the territories controlled by Israel.

President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmud Abbas delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016Credit: JOHN THYS/AFP

The UN bears a special responsibility for the Question of Palestine. Allocating a particular agenda item for Palestine is not an exceptional case for the UN. It happened with Chile under Pinochet's dictatorship, and with South African under apartheid. Both items were only taken off the agenda when the issue was solved.

In our case, we make it clear: Item 7 is not going anywhere until the Israeli occupation ends.

But what has also become clear is that those states who boycott the discussions of Israel's human rights violations under Item 7 are not willing to support action against the Israeli occupation in any other forum. The real issue isn't the agenda item, but a more comprehensive lack of willingness to hold Israel accountable.

Those European states that boycott Item 7 give a victory to Israeli settlers. Instead of boycotting a diplomatic initiative to advance the exercise of Palestine’s long overdue rights, they should be boycotting the Israeli occupation - by ending its culture of impunity.

An impoverished Palestinian sits in front of a mural depicting Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock mosque as he checks a bag containing things he collected from the streets. Gaza City, July 4, 2019Credit: AFP

The ideological ties binding the Trump administration and Israeli settlers have already had a definite impact on the ground. The East Jerusalem tunnel is only one example; in the Old City, Christian buildings are being taken by settlers near Jaffa Gate.

We Palestinians will continue using our right to go to international organizations to advance a just and lasting peace, based on entirely ending the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and the implementation of our inalienable rights, including to self-determination.

But if the rest of the international community won't take action now, what are they waiting for? When do they think that the "right time" will be? When Israel fully completes its annexation - or a bit before?

If you believe in a two-state solution, you must act now. A refusal to take minimum steps, from respecting Item 7's reporting on Palestinian human rights, or backing the release of the settlement database, only contributes to normalizing occupation. Failing to do so is an act of your own complicity in Israel's occupation.

Dr. Saeb Erekat is the Secretary General of the PLO and Chief Palestinian negotiator. Twitter: @ErakatSaeb

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