Many Europeans governments pretend to be friends with Israel, but the European Union has, over the years, become increasingly hostile towards Israel. Pictured: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference in Jerusalem, Israel, on October 4, 2018. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
The European Union has, over the years, become increasingly hostile towards Israel. That attitude was confirmed in early November when the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that food products made in the so-called settlements of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights must be labeled as such and may not carry the generic label "Made in Israel."
As rightly argued by the strategic studies expert Soeren Kern, there are many territorial conflicts all over the world, but the European Court singles out only Israel. Examples of the EU's bias against Israel are numerous, particularly compared to the United States.
The EU seems deliberately not to recognize that Israel, a sovereign state, is regularly under threat -- even extreme continuous rocket fire from Gaza and Syria -- and, for that reason alone deserves its full support. No country in the world, especially one roughly the size of Vancouver Island, undergoes military attacks as perpetually as Israel does. On November 12 and 13, in under 48 hours, more than 450 rockets and mortars were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli towns. Rockets fired from Gaza caused countless damage, injuring at least 63 persons, and reached as far as the Tel Aviv area.
Four hundred and fifty rockets in under 48 hours is not a skirmish or a minor attack; it is a large-scale military attack. Any similar attack on France or Germany -- if they received even a single missile -- would have sparked a major crisis.
The official EU response was, to say the least, underwhelming:
"This morning, Israel conducted an operation inside Gaza targeting a senior leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In response, rockets were fired from Gaza on southern and central Israel. The firing of rockets on civilian populations is totally unacceptable and must immediately stop. A rapid and complete de-escalation is now necessary to safeguard the lives and security of Palestinian and Israeli civilians. As the EU has consistently reiterated, only a political solution can put an end to these continuing cycles of violence".
The statement is revealing for many reasons. It fails to mention that Israel had killed a terrorist belonging to an extremist group about to launch another attack. The statement also fails to mention the number of rockets fired on the country, or the right of Israel to defend itself. There are no words about the consequences for the civilian population of Israel. There is no mention of who launched the rockets, or who is fueling this supposed "continuing cycle of violence", and there is no empathy whatsoever for the bombarded people of Israel.
By comparison, a US State Department spokesperson tweeted:
"The United States stands in solidarity with Israel as Israeli families and cities shelter from rockets fired by Iranian-sponsored Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Israel has every right to defend itself and its citizens."
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tweeted:
"Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an Islamist terrorist org backed by Iran, is again attacking Israel with 100's of missiles aimed at civilians. We stand w our friend & ally Israel at this critical moment & support Israel's right to defend itself & bring an end to these barbaric attacks."
In addition, Avi Berkowitz, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, tweeted:
"The U.S. fully supports our partner & ally Israel in their fight against terrorism and the terrorist group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)."
The disparity speaks for itself. The United States is a friend of Israel. The European Union is not.
When, in 2003, Israel's prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, proposed withdrawing all Israelis from the Gaza Strip and leaving the Palestinians to rule the enclave themselves, he apparently thought that giving the Palestinians independence would be positive move for the security of his country. Instead, as mapped out clearly in the Palestine Liberation Organization's 1974 "phased plan " -- to use whatever territory it gets as a launchpad to get more -- the Jewish State has been under constant attack from missiles fired from Gaza and has no choice but to retaliate. The Palestinians in Gaza, for their part, are no longer "occupied"; rather, they now struggle under the rule of Hamas' totalitarian terrorist regime, whose priority remains not the well-being of the people it controls, but the destruction of the State of Israel.
On December 6, 2017, President Donald J. Trump announced the United States' recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and, consequently, the relocation there of the US Embassy. European governments and the European Union sharply criticized the US decision and, in a move seemingly both laughable and hypocritical, continue to refuse to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Still, when European heads of state, ministers or ambassadors meet Israeli officials, they go to Jerusalem.
Two years ago, during an official meeting, this author was sitting in a room in the Knesset in Jerusalem beside European ambassadors who, according to their government, should not have been there but in Tel Aviv. Whether European governments like it or not, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Why should every country in the world be free to choose its capital except Israel? How would a European country react if the international community said that Paris was not the capital of France or Brussels not the capital of Belgium?
By denying this reality, the EU has not only failed to bring any "peace" to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, it also continues to wreck the lives of the Palestinians living there. If the EU's excuse is that it is backing the Palestinians, then why does it remain totally silent about the mistreatment of the Palestinians in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan? The EU's crocodile moral outrage seems only to surface when it can be used as a weapon against Israel.
President Trump was careful to leave open the question of the future boundaries of Jerusalem, saying:
"We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved."
It is a reasonable position. Are the Europeans governments challenging even the fact that west Jerusalem belongs to Israel? Why would the EU wait for a "final settlement" -- which might never happen -- to recognize that Jerusalem is Israel's capital?
By the end of August 2018, President Trump decided to stop funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, better known as UNRWA. The European Union immediately rushed to fill the gap. The EU called the US decision "regrettable" and increased its support. In 2018, 50% of the UNRWA's total pledges -- of $1.27 billion -- came from the contributions of EU member states', amounting to $643 million.
Officially, UNRWA is a humanitarian agency that professes to provide education, health care and social services to needy Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. UNRWA, however, has regularly been accused of not sticking to a strictly humanitarian role but, instead, of cooperation, if not complicity, with Hamas. UNRWA also gives Palestinians the false hope that they one day will be able to return to family homes in Israel that were left in 1948 before most of the "refugees" were even born. Only a few thousand who were displaced from their homes that year are still alive. Most inhabitants in the Palestinian territories are third- or fourth-generation descendants of displaced people from that war.
The EU, however, in its official statements, maintains the fiction that Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere are "refugees":
"For over four decades, the European Union has established itself as a key strategic partner for the Agency, supporting UNRWA in its efforts to help Palestine refugees achieve their full potential in human development despite their difficult circumstances (...) Building on decades of commitment and partnership, the EU has maintained its generous level of support to assist Palestine refugees." [Emphasis added]
UNRWA is a politically-oriented organization that contributes to perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem and the narrative of the so-called "right of return," the goal of which is, in fact, the destruction of Israel. UNRWA should be shut down and its work carried out by other agencies of the UN system, such UNDP and UNICEF.
The European Union, in fact, seems proud to be "the biggest donor of external assistance to the Palestinians". Since February 2008, more than €2.5 billion ($2.8 billion) have been disbursed. The EU provides core financial support to the Palestinian Authority (PA), even though part of the PA budget is earmarked for terrorists and terrorists' families, thereby actually incentivizing terrorism.
The EU is also a major contributor to helping the PA pay the salaries of civil servants, which could not be accomplished without its support, thereby not only making the PA the world biggest welfare state, but also disincentivizing the PA from becoming more self-sufficient. With the EU's funds, the PA pays the families of imprisoned terrorists in Israel as well as families of terrorists who have been killed, including kamikazes. When the PA had to make cuts in its budget, it stressed that reductions would not apply to salaries "paid to pensioners and families of martyrs, wounded or prisoners." Many Palestinians view these prisoners and those killed while carrying out terror attacks as heroes in their conflict with Israel and venerate them as martyrs. According to the Israeli press, the PA's stipends to imprisoned terrorists each year come to some $138 million.
The Dutch parliament passed a motion on November 19, objecting to providing funding to the Palestinian Authority when some of its budget is earmarked for Palestinian terrorists imprisoned by Israel. By doing so, it not only saved some of Europe's honor, it also sets an example for other European countries.
Many Europeans governments pretend to be friends with Israel. They should stop accepting EU policies based on minimum consensus among 28 countries and show more support for Israel, a country surrounded by many enemies and the only democracy in the region. Their support starts by recognizing Jerusalem as its capital.
Alain Destexhe, a columnist and political analyst, is an honorary Senator in Belgium, former secretary general of Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders, and former President of International Crisis Group.