The dispossession of the Palestinian people has been and remains an internationalized endeavor. With the European Union as its largest trading partner and the United States as its largest backer militarily and politically, Israel has no reason to reconsider its denial of Palestinian self-determination.
Albeit both the EU and the United States have been and remain Israel’s global patrons, the prospects for change toward Israel appear quite different in the EU than they do in the United States. Compared to the EU, the United States lags behind in terms of the level of knowledge of, and intensity of opposition to, Israel’s conduct.
EU’s Budding Reservations
The way the over half a billion EU citizens view Israel in general and its policies toward the Palestinians in particular is undergoing a historic transformation.
Already in 2003, when Israel had been attempting for more than three years to subdue the Second Intifada by carrying out repressive withering military operations in the occupied West Bank, a survey was conducted in the EU on which countries were perceived as threats to world peace. The European Commission poll spoke volumes: Sixty percent of the EU citizenry regarded Israel as the greatest threat to world peace.
The awareness of Israeli policies of occupation, apartheid, land-annexation and military aggression is at its all-time high within the EU. According to a YouGov poll, 62 percent of the British public say that Israel is committing war crimes in Gaza. Only 12 percent of the British respondents were of the opinion that Israel is not guilty of war crimes.
A survey conducted by charity Embrace the Middle East found that more than twice the number of UK Christians sympathize with the Palestinians (35.4 percent) than with Israel (16.9 percent). Approximately 70 percent of UK Christians strongly agreed or tended to agree with the statement that the land belongs to both Jewish people and Palestinians and no more than a third strongly agreed or tended to agree with the statement “God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people.”
In France, a poll cited by the news magazine L’Express revealed that 12 percent of respondents supported Israel during its assault on Gaza. Throughout Israel’s history, the bilateral relations between Israel and France have been cozy. Since Israel’s founding until France’s withdrawal from Algeria in 1962, France was Israel’s main weapons supplier.
Although the EU trades military hardware and technology with Israel, both imports and exports, in the billions of euros, there is no certainty that EU member states will continue on this path.
Spain has frozen arms exports to Israel, with which it has conducted large-scale trade in military equipment. The move by the Spanish government made the news around the world.
Finnish foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja, together with more than 250 Finnish dignitaries, has signed a petition calling for an immediate discontinuation of all forms of military trade and cooperation with Israel. Tuomioja has added that Finland should never have engaged in dealings with the Israeli military industry. The Finnish foreign minister has also noted that Israel should face “consequences” for its actions, specifically mentioning the prospect of “sanctions.”
The UK has also announced that it will freeze some of its arms exports to Israel “if hostilities resume.” Also in early August, the UK Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi resigned from the government. She stated that the approach of the UK toward Israel is “morally indefensible” and that she “can no longer support government policy on Gaza.”
Starting September 1, the EU began blocking the entry of all animal products for human consumption coming from Israeli settlements, including eggs, poultry and dairy. It is possible that this marks the beginning of concrete actions by the EU to counter Israel’s illegal settlement infrastructure.
US-Israeli Intelligence, Military Kinship
Few constitutionally separate states have forged an alliance amounting to mutual integration to the extent of the United States and Israel. The intelligence communities and military apparatuses of both states are engaged in continuous and exceptionally close cooperation.
In late 1970s and early 1980s, the Israeli Intelligence Community became an even more vital source of intelligence data and analysis for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This was partly due to the cumulative effect of the overthrow of the Shah’s regime in Iran in 1979 and the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut in 1983, both of which reduced the clout of the CIA in the Middle East.
Israel, for its part, has received more foreign aid than any country in world history. The plurality of the aid has been delivered by the United States under the bilateral US foreign assistance program. Most of the total $121 billion transmitted to Israel by the United States has been aid in the form of military hardware.
Unlike other recipients of US aid, Israel generally receives the aid within the first 30 days of the fiscal year. Israel also has a special permit to use some US military assistance both for development and research in the United States and for procuring military hardware from Israeli weapons companies.
Indeed, the armies of both states are employing a multitude of each other’s military systems. The United States and Israel are also embarking on a number of joint training programs for air forces, infantry and naval forces as well as joint police training and extensive homeland security cooperation.
US Public Opinion Champions Assaults on Gaza
Israel’s immensely destructive onslaught against Gaza in 2008-09 had the backing of a simple majority of US citizens, ranging from 57 percent to 63 percent, depending on the poll. Although a large body of data has since accumulated on Israel’s egregious laws-of-war violations, war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in the 2008-09 attack – including a detailed report by Amnesty International, various statements by Human Rights Watch, and the comprehensive Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, the support of the US general public for Israel’s military aggression has not diminished.
The latest Gaza massacre that started on July 8, 2014, has claimed even more Palestinian lives and wreaked even more havoc than the 2008-09 assault. Nonetheless, a solid 57 percent of the US public again regarded Israel’s recent warfare against besieged Gaza as justified.
A CNN poll also clarified that 73 percent of Republicans, 46 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents support Israel military actions. In early August, US President Barack Obama stated that he has “consistently defended Israel’s right to defend itself, and that includes doing what it needs to do” and that it’s Hamas that is putting the Gazans in harm’s way. No major political figures in the United States have come out staunchly against Israel’s military aggression.
The US public views Israel positively in general. Recently, the percentage of US citizens with a favorable opinion of Israel has ranged from 60 percent to 72 percent. Furthermore, two-thirds of US public would either increase US military assistance to Israel or maintain the current level of aid.
Will the EU End Israel’s Occupation and Apartheid?
Comparing the positions of the general public and the political class on Israel-Palestine in the EU and the US leaves little room for ambiguity: The level of knowledge about what is unfolding in historical Palestine is higher, and opposition to Israel’s policies is more intense in Europe than in the United States. Moreover, the military-intelligence-police apparatuses of the United States are more deeply and thoroughly integrated into those of Israel than any forms of military, intelligence or police cooperation that take place between EU and Israel.
The approach of EU member states toward Israel is noticeably different than that of the United States. Labeling settlement products, let alone banning them; suspending arms exports; government minister resignation in protest of relations with Israel; a foreign minister calling for an immediate discontinuation of all forms of arms trade with Israel; and other such maneuvers are not to be expected from the United States anytime soon.
The civil society of the EU has all the means at its disposal to bring about a change in EU policy toward Israel. Specifically, the EU can suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which grants vital economic benefits to Israel. The agreement states that “[r]elations between the parties, as well as all the provisions of the agreement itself shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles,” which constitute “an essential element of this agreement.”
Another agreement that the EU keeps violating is the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports which asserts that member states will:
- Not issue an export license if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression;
- Exercise special caution and vigilance in issuing licences, on a case-by-case basis and taking account of the nature of the equipment, to countries where serious violations of human rights have been established by the competent bodies of the UN, the Council of Europe or by the EU.
For Brussels and individual EU member states, all the pieces are in place to enforce EU agreements and start pressuring Israel to abide by international law. Once the EU takes its own agreements and European public opinion seriously, it ceases being Israel’s collaborator. That might prove pivotal in dismantling the longest ongoing military occupation in the post WWII era and undoing the world’s last apartheid regime.