After twenty years, still no peace

25 September 2013

After twenty years, still no peace

Twenty years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, the peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel, there is still no peace. It’s time the EU put Israel under more pressure, says Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel (SP).

Harry van BommelNever before had the hope for a Palestinian state and an end to the Israeli occupation been as great as when, on September 13th, 1993, the Oslo Accords were signed. Now, twenty years on, the sad reality is that 'Oslo', and the peace initiatives which followed, have failed.

Both Palestinian and Israeli sides can come up with all sorts of reasons for the failure of the various peace initiatives. The Palestinians, have thrown a spanner in the works of peace by carrying out suicide attacks on Israeli targets. But it is absolutely clear that no chance of peace exists as long as Israel continues to expand its illegal settlements and maintains its occupation of the Palestinian territories. The expansion of the settlements proclaims, more than does anything else, the failure of the numerous attempts at peace.

By expanding the settlements in rapid tempo, Israel has failed to meet its obligations to peace. Despite this, relations between the EU and Israel are continually deepening. These close ties are confirmed in, amongst other things, the EU-Israel Association Agreement and in the European Neighbourhood Policy. In 2009 the European Union’s then High Representative for Foreign Affairs Javier Solana stated without exaggeration that Israel ‘is a member of the European Union without being a member of its institutions.’

On the face of it there’s nothing wrong with a deepening of relations between countries, but the intensification of relations with Israel means in practice regular and steady – if indirect – support for involvement in multiple transgressions of international law, which automatically accompany the continuing occupation. Good examples of this include the import of products from the illegal settlements, export of military goods to Israel and involvement in illegal construction.

Draw up a balance twenty years on from Oslo and you can only come to the conclusion that the deepening of relations between the EU and Israel could not in any way fulfil the hopes the Accords created for a viable Palestinian state. To state it more strongly: such a state is further away than ever.

That Israel can nevertheless always depend on support from the EU in the form of a deepening of relations is impossible to explain. It is therefore high time that the European Union reversed its course. Its relations with Israel offer the EU instruments which it could use to do just that and change the direction of its policies.

Frans Timmermans, Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Dutch government, is however no supporter of measures against Israel, fearing that any such moves would turn out badly. It is impossible to demonstrate whether he is right in this, but what stands out like a sore thumb is that the EU’s policy towards Israel since Oslo is bankrupt.

It is also valid to say that in the past pressure from the EU has certainly borne fruit. In 1990 Israel closed all sorts of educational institutions on the West Bank. The European Commission reacted to this collective punishment by freezing scientific cooperation programmes, after which Israel ended the closures.

If soon, as many fear, the current US peace initiative runs aground because Israel is continuing to expand its settlements, it is fervently to be hoped that the EU will on this occasion commit itself to ensuring that this has consequences.

This article first appeared in the original Dutch in the Dutch national newspaper Het Parool and the regional newspaper De Gelderlander on 12th September, and the regional newspaper De Leeuwarder Courant a day earlier.

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