The European Union, the supranational organization of the 27 most developed European nations, is one of the most outspoken and frequent international critics of Israel. Its reports on the situation in the Middle East are often so unfair and biased that not only have they drawn the ire of Israel, they have also angered the government of one of the EU's six original founding states, the Netherlands, which no longer wants to endorse the reports emanating from the EU mission in Ramallah.
Last December, the EU heads of mission in Ramallah authored a report on the situation in Jerusalem in which they accused Israel of trying to destroy chances for peace with Palestinians by snatching control of East Jerusalem through the construction of Israeli settlements. "If current trends continue, the prospect of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states becomes increasingly unlikely and unworkable, undermining a two-state solution … [Israeli actions] provide fuel to those who want to further radicalise the conflict," the report stated.
It noted that the 790,000 Arabs living in Jerusalem suffer from overcrowding, dirty streets and poor sewage, that Palestinian children in Israeli-run schools are forced to use books which are "edited" for "sensitive" content, that ambulances with Palestinian patients are subjected to "unnecessary and potentially life-threatening delays" and that archeological projects put "emphasis on biblical and Jewish-Israeli connotations of the area while neglecting Arab/Muslim claims of historic-archeological ties."
The report advocated that the European Commission, the EU's executive body, propose legislation "to prevent/discourage [EU] financial transactions in support of settlement activity," "ensure" that Israeli vegetables from settlement farms do not get preferential import tariffs in the EU, and that EU countries "share information on violent settlers … to assess whether to grant entry into EU member states."
This report came barely a week after another report which had accused Israel of monopolizing farm land and water in the Jordan Valley in a bid to drive out native Arabs, while another recent EU paper had accused Israel of eroding the civil liberties of Arab-Israeli citizens.
Last January, Israeli information minister Yuli Yoel Edelstein questioned the accuracy of the EU reports which are drafted without Israeli input. Edelstein said these surveys are part of a decades-long "attempt to undermine [Israel's] very legitimacy.
Last week it was revealed that the EU ambassadors in Ramallah had composed yet another report. This time they accuse Israel of not doing enough to stop aggression from Jewish settlers against Palestinians. The report claims that the Jewish violence is rapidly increasing, while "the Israeli state … has so far failed to protect the Palestinian population."
According to the report, Jewish attacks vary from gunfire to throwing stones and garbage at Arabs, including children, burning homes and mosques, killing livestock and uprooting olive trees. The report says that the attacks resulted in three Palestinian deaths last year. "There has been no widespread response from the Palestinian side," the EU report states, although it admits that Palestinians killed eight Jews (including five members of one family). The aim of the Jewish attacks is to "effectively force a withdrawal of the Palestinian population, … thereby increasing the scope for settlement expansion."
The Netherlands declined to endorse the report, forcing the non-Dutch EU diplomats in Ramallah to add the footnote: "the NL [Netherlands] places a general reserve on the document." A senior Israeli official also dismissed the report. "It's unacceptable," he said. "We had numerous cases over the past year when Israeli citizens, including schoolchildren, were brutally murdered by Palestinians and I think for the Israeli public these reports would have more credibility if they were more neutral."
The fact that the Dutch openly distanced themselves from an EU report angered the other EU countries. "We are witnessing the toughest position the Netherlands has ever adopted," one EU diplomat told the Dutch newspaper NRC-Handelsblad. "Moreover, it is a position which resembles the toughest position within Israel."
It is, however, not the first time that Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal has stood up for Israel. Last September, he managed to stop European diplomats at the UN reaching a common position on the status of human rights in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The Dutch government is a minority government of Liberals and Christian-Democrats, backed by the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders. Both Uri Rosenthal, who is Jewish, and Geert Wilders, who is not Jewish, are politicians who are personally acquainted with the situation in Israel. Rosenthal's wife is an Israeli citizen. Wilders spent a year living in Israel, including in a Jewish settlement in the Jordan valley.
The Dutch government is not only on a collision course with the EU over Israel, but is also pushing for stricter immigration rules. European immigration rules are to a large extent set by the EU and not by the member states. While the Dutch insist on stricter regulations, the European Commission and other EU members are so far unwilling to address the issue.
The Netherlands is also vetoing the admission of Bulgaria and Romania to the so-called "Schengen area," the EU's borderless area where people can travel freely. The Dutch insist that Bulgaria and Romania combat corruption and organized crime more effectively: they are worried that crime and corruption might jeopardize safety in the Schengen area.
Some critics warn that the position of the Dutch will isolate their country in Europe. It is, however, also possible that the Dutch are pioneers, whose example will soon be followed by others. An indication of this could be seen last week when French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is currently running for reelection, called for a French withdrawal from Schengen, if within the next 12 months no serious reforms are undertaken to address the problem of the EU's porous southern and eastern borders, which allow an inflow of thousands of immigrants (many of them Muslims) each year.
One hope EU leaders, like Sarkozy, will soon also notice that a more realistic approach to Israel – in line with that of the Dutch – is in the national security interests of Europe.