Iran is building nuclear weapons, Syria is slaughtering its citizens, Libya is being taken over by al-Qaeda, Egypt is threatened with another Pharaoh, Turkey is working toward rebuilding the Ottoman Empire, and Christians are being massacred in Egypt, Nigeria and Mali (among other countries). But last Thursday, the European Commission summoned the Israeli Ambassador to the European Union (EU) over Israel's plan to build 3,000 new homes in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. The Israeli plans were a response to the United Nations' decision on 29 November to grant the Palestinian Authority the status of a UN non-member observer state, in direct violation of the UN's own Resolutions 242, 338, and 1850 -- an overruling the UN Charter specifically forbids.
The Palestinian move was also in direct violation of its bilateral September 28, 1995, Oslo II agreements, in which the both the Palestinians and the Israelis, in Article 31, consented that "nether side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the Permanent Status negotiations."
Why should any country sign an agreement if it will just be invalidated a few years later?
Canada, in response to the Palestinian Authority's illegal behavior, immediately recalled its diplomats assigned to the West Bank; however, the same illegal behavior was lavishly rewarded shortly thereafter by several European countries who summoned Israel's ambassadors -- a precedent that can only be understood to signal that, as so often at the UN, illegal behavior -- as in oil for food, or sex for food -- will be rewarded -- or at least not reprimanded -- in the future.
Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, emphasized that it is very exceptional for the Commission, the executive body of the EU, to summon an ambassador.
The ambassador met Ashton's deputy Pierre Vimont, who expressed the EU's concern about the Israeli building plans. The EU wants the project annulled: it is said to be "an obstacle to peace." Not the PLO or Hamas Charters, which call for Israel's destruction, or the hundreds of rockets fired into at Israel over the last month, or Iran's continual and illegal -- under both the UN's own Charter and the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide -- calls for genocide in "wiping Israel…": No, no, no these are not threats to peace worth mentioning or bothering about. The Czech Republic was the only one of the 27 EU member states to join the US, Canada, Israel, Panama and four Micronesian island states in voting against the UN resolution to upgrade the status of the PA within the UN. Twelve EU members, including Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and all the EU states from Eastern Europe, were among the 41 UN members who abstained. The remaining fourteen EU members, consisting of the entire Latin and Mediterranean bloc and the Scandinavians, were among the 138 nations that voted in favor of the Palestinian Authority.
There is also some good news, however. In Italy, one of the countries which backed the recognition of the PA as a UN non-member observer state, one hundred members of the Italian Parliament protested the decision of the government to do so. The parliamentarians belong to the PdL party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which withdrew its support of the Italian government last week. In Belgium, another country which supported the enhanced status of the PA within the UN, the decision led to a rift within the governing center-right MR party. Half the MR senators oppose the government's pro-Palestinian line.
Nevertheless, it is striking to see that within the EU there is but one country courageous enough to stand with Israel: the Czech Republic. Most EU members backed the Palestinian claims. The governments that took a neutral position by abstaining can only be found in the countries that suffered under Communist dictatorship, in Germany (previously, partly under Communist rule), Britain and the Netherlands.
The Scandinavians and the Irish traditionally pursue leftist international policies which are by definition critical of Israel; the Mediterranean rim together with Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria, have since the 1970s and 80s conducted a foreign policy that aims to appease North Africa and the Arab world.
The dependency on Arab oil and the fact that millions of immigrants from North Africa have settled within the borders of these EU states explain this appeasement policy.
Apart from the European Commission, several EU governments bilaterally expressed their dissatisfaction with the Israeli building plans. As 14 of the 27 EU members took a pro-Palestinian position in the UN while thirteen did not, it is unlikely that the EU will impose trade sanctions over the construction plans. A vocal critical stance will, however, be taken, also by the twelve EU members that abstained in the UN.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her dissatisfaction in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The United Kingdom followed the French, Spanish, Danish and Swedish example of summoning the Israeli ambassador over the housing projects. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that, although there did not appear to be any "enthusiasm" in the EU for a move to impose economic sanctions on Israel, "if there is no reversal [of the Israeli decision] we will want to consider what further steps European countries should take."
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told the Dutch media that the Netherlands will raise pressure on Israel to stop its building projects. It is unlikely that Timmermans will follow the example of his predecessor Uri Rosenthal, who last year vetoed a critical EU report on the Israeli settlements. The Dutch ambassador to Tel Aviv urged the Israeli government to stop the building project.
Meanwhile, the civil servants of the European Commission are pursuing their anti-Israeli policies. The Commission recently sponsored a workshop to investigate how to label goods made in the Israeli "settlements" and prevent them from being sold in Europe. Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN high commissioner for Human Rights, and Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland and Nobel peace prize winner, are patrons of a movement to boycott such Israeli products. EU officials want the products labeled so that they can be differentiated from other Israeli products. As the EU does not recognize that Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem are part of Israel, products from these areas would be subject to EU import duties.
Last August, the European Commission issued a ruling ordering EU customs authorities to check the origin of Israeli products in order to exclude "settlement goods from preferential treatment." The Commission made a list of so-called "non-eligible locations" – Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria – which are to be targeted. "Operators are advised to consult the list before lodging a customs declaration for releasing goods for free circulation," the EU document states. The communities on the EU blacklist are non-eligible for duty-free status under the EU-Israel Free Trade Agreement.
The EU blacklist is a violation of international free trade; it is also reminiscent of the 1933 Nazi boycott of Jewish products.