The European Union’s decision to distinguish between products manufactured in the settlements and those made in Israel is a warning call by friends who are trying to extend a hand to a country that is sinking in the quagmire of occupation and moving further away from Western values and democracy. The impact on the Israeli economy of the EU’s new labelling policy will be negligible; the importance of the European decision is in its diplomatic message – that the occupied territories are not part of Israel and the enlightened world is strongly opposed to the settlements.
The Israeli response to the European decision is predictable and worrisome. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with a chorus of ministers and supposed opposition leaders, Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid, hastened to accuse the Europeans of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism. The Foreign Ministry made sure to punish the EU by cancelling a low-level meeting, which had been intended to move ahead on aid to the Palestinians.
The extreme right took advantage of the opportunity to promote two bills, which immediately received government support: Branding associations and organizations that receive European funding, most of which work for peace and against the occupation, and the new initiative to prohibit entry to Israel of anyone who supports a boycott of the state or the settlements.
The government is impervious to warnings from friendly countries, which feel that Israel is losing its place among them. Its ministers and supporters respond by entrenching themselves and turning inward, which will only distance Israel further from its democratic roots. Regarding Europe as an anti-Semitic enemy, branding human rights activists as collaborators and creating blacklists of critics of the government and the settlements bring Israel closer to North Korea and Iran. That is the price of mortgaging the state and its welfare to the interests of the settlements and devotees of annexation.
Instead of dealing with what is important, the prime minister is waging rearguard public diplomacy battles that persuade no one in the international community. His declaration that the issue of Jerusalem is “unsolvable” and his strange call to prepare for the annexation of the Golan as Israel’s spoils from the war in Syria, indicate a disassociation from the storm in which Israel placed itself due to its refusal of any compromise or reasonable agreement to end the occupation. Netanyahu’s position ensures that the precedent-setting decision in Europe will be only the first in a series.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now