It is a longstanding complaint that Israel is unfairly harassed in those international forums that deal with human rights. On the other hand, countries that are too big to harass, such as Russian and China, or that are oil rich, such as the Gulf states, get away with anything. Well, here's news: Now that Israel has discovered vast offshore deposits of natural gas and even some oil, it can aspire to the status of a Gulf state. Not quite geographically, but in terms of the scruples that others can brush aside in their eagerness to do business.
This applies above all to the European Union (EU). According to a recent report, "Valeria Termini, vice president of the Council of European Energy Regulators, has held talks with senior Israeli Energy and Water Ministry officials" on the proposal to link Israel's natural gas fields to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline. The EU would benefit from reduced dependence on Russian natural gas, while the cost to Israel of marketing the gas would be greatly reduced, since there would be no need to liquefy the natural gas (LNG) and ship it on tankers. "An LNG terminal is estimated to cost between $7 billion to $10 billion while a pipeline to the European network can be built for $2 billion-$3 billion."
A deep-water gas rig drilling at Israel's Leviathan field in the Mediterranean Sea. (Source: UK in Israel)
Yet Israel is not putting all its gas eggs in the EU basket. Another report tells us: "In July 2012 President Vladimir Putin visited Israel, largely to discuss the gas fields. The Russian Gazprom has signed a deal with Israel on the future distribution of the large Israel gas resources, and plans to build a floating facility off Cyprus to convert the product to LNG." The reason given was that the civil war in Syria has frustrated an earlier Gazprom project to pump gas from Iran to the Lebanese coast. In other words, Israel is being courted by both Russia and the EU and can choose what to award to either of those suitors. "Human rights" issues are off that agenda.
Recent Gestures toward Israel
Now, there has been a lot of fluttering of feathers over the recently publicized EU guidelines on Jewish settlements across the "green line." We shall turn to that in a moment, but it should not distract our attention from a series of remarkably friendly gestures toward Israel, emanating from Europe in recent months.
Precisely at the last meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, the EU took vehement exception to Special Rapporteur Richard Falk's most recent report, aka baseless diatribe against Israel. It denounced the report in these words: "The EU continues to regret the unbalanced mandate of the Special Rapporteur and is also concerned that parts of the report include political considerations. In the past, the EU emphasized that future reports should be based on a more factual and legal analysis, and we regret to see no genuine progress in that direction. The council needs to be provided with accurate, factual information and solid allegations to fulfill its role and address the human rights situation in occupied Palestinian territory." In short, please stop trying to fool us with fictions about Israeli human rights violations.
In another example, Israel's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni recently expressed worry about an EU boycott of Israeli goods, but this was quickly downplayed by a "senior European diplomatic official" speaking to the Jerusalem Post. The official called a boycott of Israeli goods "highly unlikely," since "businessmen in a number of European countries are keen on partnering with Israeli companies to use their technology and innovation in opening up markets in third countries, often in the Far East." Moreover, "even a European boycott on just settlement products would run into a great deal of difficulty in the EU, with a number of countries – such as Germany, the Netherlands and others – likely to oppose it." The only concrete step that the official envisaged was "restricting travel to the EU by certain violent settlers." Some of the latter, by the way, face restrictions in Israel itself.
The same message was emphatically given by Matthew Gould, the UK's Ambassador to Israel, speaking at his embassy's celebration of the Queen's birthday. Boycotts, he said, "do nothing to build understanding, they put up walls when we should be tearing them down." Referring to Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, he admitted that Israel and the UK "don't always agree on everything," but "the important thing is that we disagree as friends, and we will stand alongside Israel as a friend." As for trade: "In the past year we've built huge strides in building a relationship in technology; we've continued to grow the level of trade between Britain and Israel, so we are now Israel's biggest export market in the world, after the United States."
He could have added that, conversely, Israel is "the UK's largest individual trading partner in the near East and North Africa," according to another report. Mutual trade topped £3 billion in 2009 and is now close to £4 billion. Yes, anti-Israel louts succeeded in terrorizing a shop in London's West End, which was selling Israeli cosmetics, into closing. Despite that petty success, about £1.1 billion's worth of Israeli-produced pharmaceuticals were purchased by Britain in 2012; they save lots of money for the UK's troubled National Health Service. The British also spent £82 million on Israeli food and drink products. Attempts to boycott Israel in British supermarkets just prompt buying sprees by friends of Israel.
Other attempts to disturb EU-Israel ties have also been rejected. The European Under-21 Soccer championship was held in Israel, despite Palestinian objections, and evoked high praise from UEFA president Michel Platini: "The stadiums were wonderful and well-organized, the pitches excellent and the atmosphere in the stadiums was great with many families with young children attending. That is exactly the type of tournament that I like to see." He rejected "taking hostage" soccer "for political, economic, communication reasons, reasons of image." The EU and Israel also recently signed an open skies agreement for civil aviation.
Admittedly, Stephen Hawking refused to come to the birthday party of President Shimon Peres. For his decision he was chastised by, among others, the London Times in an editorial entitled: "Abuse of Science: Hawking's boycott of Israel is intellectually and morally disreputable." Said the Times: "Professor Hawking should never have put his name to this campaign. It is an example of intellectual obscurantism masquerading as humanitarian concern. And that is stupid." Hawking was one of 5,000 invitees; as far as is known, the other 4,999 were not stupid enough to follow his lead.
Those EU Guidelines
Now to the new EU guidelines, which are designed to ban European cooperation with Israeli institutions beyond the armistice lines agreed by Israel and the Arab states in 1949. They are the brainchild of Christian Berger, "an Austrian diplomat who for the past few years was the EU envoy in the Palestinian territories" and who now heads the European Commission's Middle East department. No coincidence?
The announcement of this initiative evoked widespread and well justified indignation in Israel. Ever since, other European bureaucrats have being trying to assure Israelis that the guidelines make no changes and mean next to nothing. Contrary to earlier reports, we are now assured that the guidelines do not decree that "contracts between EU member states and Israel must include a clause stating that east Jerusalem and the West Bank are not part of the State of Israel and therefore not part of the contract."
According to Sandra De Waele, EU first counsellor in Israel, the guidelines relate only to the policy of EU institutions, while the individual member states can continue to do whatever they want. The guidelines apply merely to "grants, awards, and prizes funded by the European Union itself, and not to funding from individual member states." Nor do they "apply to trade agreements or the marketing of products from the West Bank." They also apply only to Israeli institutions, not to individuals, so Israelis living beyond the armistice lines of 1949 will not be affected if their workplace lies within those lines.
Among the consequences of De Waele's much narrower description of the new EU guidelines is that Israeli Arabs will be among the chief victims. This is a group that the EU routinely admonishes Israel not to discriminate against -- but now the EU itself is punishing them. Why? Because many of them have set themselves up in "East Jerusalem" among fellow Arabs, while hundreds of them study at the new Ariel University in Samaria. They are therefore ineligible for those "grants, awards and prizes."
To make such consequences even more absurd, the whole scheme is based on an armistice line that no longer exists except in the minds of foreign bureaucrats and journalists. This point was recently made by Robbie Sabel, Professor of International Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The armistice agreement signed by Israel and Jordan in 1949, which created the line, was replaced by a ceasefire after the Six Day War of 1967 and then, finally and totally, by the peace treaty between the two countries in 1994. As Sabel says: "In accordance with international law, international boundaries survive the demise of the treaties that established them. This, however, is not true of ceasefire or armistice-demarcation lines. The temporary nature of a ceasefire or armistice line is such that their validity expires with the expiration of the ceasefire or armistice."
Today, the only documents pertinent to the status of areas beyond that line are the agreements signed in the 1990s by Israel and the PLO, a non-state organization. These agreements recognize, albeit provisionally, exclusive Israeli control over the so-called Area C, which includes all the Jewish settlements.
Sabel's understanding is corroborated by a very important decision by the French Court of Appeal in Versailles in April 2013 (here in French). Israel has created a long tramline ("the Jerusalem Light Rail") that freely crosses the former armistice line in North Jerusalem to serve the Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in that area. The PLO and its French supporters brought a court case against the French firms that mainly constructed the tramline, alleging that the project was illegal. Both a lower court and the Court of Appeal ruled that the Israeli occupation of the area was legal, in terms of both French and international law, and that Israel had not merely the right but the duty to provide adequate public transport to all residents. A further report notes, among other details, that the court also ordered the PLO and its minions to pay the French firms 90,000 Euros.
The EU is entitled, of course, to draw lines wherever it wants in the implementation of its policies. But if EU officials cling dogmatically to a line that lost its status decades ago, they should expect to create anomalies such as discrimination against Israeli Arabs.
Even in the Palestinian Authority (PA), the EU guidelines have had a mixed reception. Some welcome them as an ideological stance. Others have deplored the impact on the Palestinian economy. One senior PA official is quoted as saying: "For our part, we approached a number of [European] Union officials, in the [Palestinian] Authority and also in Israel, to try and prevent the decision or at least to keep it unofficial. It's not just Israeli companies that are going to be hit economically, it's also going to be disastrous economically and socially for the Palestinian community." He anticipated that "the European move will freeze joint projects, force employers to stop hiring Palestinians to work on joint projects with Israelis and lead to widespread layoffs of Palestinians laborers working in Judea and Samaria industrial zones." So much for Christian Berger's initiative on behalf of Palestinians.
Moreover, the guidelines have provoked irritation also among significant national European politicians, whose patience is often enough tried by irrelevant EU guidelines. The German government, for example, has distanced itself from them. Explaining this decision, the spokesman of the Christian Democrat faction in the German parliament issued a press release in which he called the guidelines "pure ideology and symbolic politics" that could only hinder developments needed by Palestinians and Israelis alike. He emphasized that Israel is "the recognized administrative power" (in Area C, that is) "without whose permission development programs such as solar panels and sewage works cannot be constructed."
We cannot claim, of course, that all is well between Israel and Europe. On the contrary, there is a major problem that overhangs and threatens everything. It was highlighted in a recent debate between Manfred Gerstenfeld and Robert Wistrich, both authoritative researchers, about a German university research report on various forms of "group-focused enmity" in eight EU countries. The report included the conclusion (p. 58) that "around 40 percent of respondents in most participating countries affirm the drastic assessment that the Israeli state is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians." More exactly, apart from Poland (63.3%), the figure varied from 37.6% in Italy to 48.8% in Portugal (the other countries were Germany, the UK, France, the Netherlands and Hungary). That is, those respondents rank Israel's treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi treatment of Jews.
For Gerstenfeld, it means that 40% of Europeans are antisemites, for Wistrich, that 40% are idiots to believe such nonsense. The reality is much more complex, however, in view of factors that both of them disregard.
For one thing, the report also asked the respondents whether "Jews enrich our culture." The positive answers varied from 49.7% in Italy to 68.9% in Germany, 71.5% in the UK and 71.8% in the Netherlands. For another, the answers to both questions may well not be conclusions drawn by the respondents after careful investigation, but merely what they have constantly heard from others.
Thus the widely expressed belief that "Jews enrich our culture" is an achievement for those who have striven to change the image of Jews in Europe. On the other hand, absurd beliefs about Israel are the achievement of energetic antisemites and idiots in the press, the trades unions and the churches, who wage an incessant war of defamation against Israel and deceive many naïve well-meaning individuals. This phenomenon was analyzed brilliantly by Bernard Harrison in his 2006 book The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel and Liberal Opinion; see my review of the book for details. Especially the churches, first and foremost the World Council of Churches (to which the Catholic churches thankfully do not belong), should be remorseful of policies that start Christians on the path to Hell.
Let us take an instructive example from the British Daily Mail, which runs the most heavily visited newspaper website in the world. It has just reported that a Liberal Democrat MP has been suspended by the Westminster party faction for repeatedly calling Israel an "apartheid state." The instructive part is the reactions of readers of the website. By large majorities, they voted for comments claiming the MP is telling the truth and against comments pointing out, in careful detail, why it is nonsense to accuse Israel of apartheid.
Now, the Daily Mail is not a left-wing rag obsessed with Israel. On the contrary, it regularly publishes articles by Melanie Philips (nearly 700 items on her author page). In November 2012, however, it published a lavishly illustrated article about the death of the baby son of a BBC employee in Gaza, allegedly killed by an Israeli airstrike. Four months later, the UN determined that it was a Palestinian rocket aimed at Israeli towns that fell short and killed the boy.
To its credit, the Daily Mail eventually tried to correct the story on its website, although the result is clumsy. A subheading now combines the old and new versions like this: "The BBC Arabic employee's son Omar was killed in Gaza by an airstrike, probably a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel." (This is a nonsensical formulation; the word "airstrike" is used of attacks from the air, not of rockets fired from the ground.) There is no other evident change to the report. All of the 647 comments continue to reflect the original version that the child was killed by Israel, with hundreds of votes in favor of comments denouncing Israel.
Few, if any, of those readers may have gone back to the page after fourth months, or even noticed the minimal correction if they did. The impact of a hastily posted false story is indelible. As for the BBC, which also naturally covered the story extensively, its own reporter refused to accept the UN's correction.
So this is the picture. In Europe, Israel is vilified in parts of the press, the trades unions and the churches, but government and industry are often better informed and more concerned for national interests in working with Israel. The discovery of Israeli gas and oil shifts the balance toward the latter.
The picture is encapsulated in the person of Ian Livingstone, a Jew who currently heads BT, the £15 billion British multinational telecommunications services company, which has a virtual telephone monopoly in the UK as well as operations in 170 countries. In June 2013, he was appointed British Trade and Industry Minister, to start from the coming December. He can be read about in a recent article posted on The Times of Israel as well as an earlier article in the Jewish Chronicle (October 2011). Most telling is a statement in the latter, which deserves to be read in full:
"I think what I find more discomfiting is the acceptance of among [sic] some parts of wider society, particularly the left, that there is a different rule for Israel than there is for everything else. You really worry about the cause of that.
"I will give you an example today. BT has a relationship with 100 major telecoms companies around the world. One of them is Bezeq, Israeli telecoms. It is nothing to do with me, but a normal commercial agreement, because they are a big Israeli company. War on Want now has this campaign commanding that BT dissociate itself from Bezeq.
"Interestingly I have not received a single email from anyone in War on Want expressing any concerns about a relationship we may or may not have had in Syria, in Libya or anywhere else. You wonder and ask yourself repeatedly: Why is it? Is it anti-Americanism? Is it antisemitism? Is it anti-Zionism where they treat Israel differently? If you talk about what is a discomfort, that is a discomfort I feel just now. It is not a personal discomfort. It is a discomfort about something in society."
Dimensions of the Future
Now let us imagine how the picture could change when Israel becomes a full-fledged quasi-Gulf state. By the way, in the future Israel may have lots of oil as well, if an Israeli company (Israel Energy Initiatives) succeeds in devising a process to obtain oil from oil shale, of which several countries, including Israel, have vast quantities. Oil shale is not to be confused with shale oil (that which is fracked); the difference and the prospects are described here.
As most forecasts about the Middle East are quickly refuted by events, it would be vain to predict how Israel will behave as a Gulf state. The horrendous behavior of the existing Gulf states allow us to imagine the extremes to which Israel could now indulge itself, although one hopes it will not.
Remember that "demographic problem," the fear that one day non-Jews might outnumber Jews in the Jewish State? Especially if Israel annexed the West Bank? As a Gulf state, Israel could let a religious minority lord it over a religious majority. After all, that is the situation in Bahrain, where the one third of citizens that are Sunni brutally suppress attempts by the Shia majority to gain a proportionate share in rule. In March 2011, the ruling Sunni clique called in Saudi forces to put down a Shia uprising. The US issued stereotypical "calls for restraint" while continuing plans to double the base that houses its Fifth Fleet Command. No other Western country seems to have shown much concern beyond hand-wringing at the pictures on TV (if any reached it).
Alternatively, Israel could redefine the Palestinians as foreigners with temporary residence – even if the country's population ends up with 80% as foreigners and only 20% as citizens. That is the situation in Qatar. The rulers of this country have the impudence to fund a TV network, Al Jazeera, which encourages uprisings of the underprivileged everywhere else, just not in Qatar.
Note that the Gulf states have sophisticated methods of discouraging complaints about violations of human rights. In Dubai, for instance, a recent Norwegian visitor who complained about being raped was promptly thrown into prison for having extramarital sexual relations. The local women are smart enough to keep their mouths shut. As the BBC's version of this incident reports, "UAE law states a rape conviction can only be secured after a confession or as the result of testimony from four adult male witnesses to the crime." That is, the law permits gang rapes of up to three non-confessing males.
So will the Norwegians now campaign to rescue Dubai women from this appalling law? We doubt it. Back in Norway, a non-EU country, they are much too busy denouncing Israel. Nor can the prospect of Israeli gas and oil deter them, as the Norwegians have lots of both.
Yet there is a lesson here, too, for Israel. Like Norway, Israel can become a hypocritical denouncer of imaginary human rights violations elsewhere, including in Norway. How about denouncing the prison conditions of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer? After all, the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds sets aside a whole page every day for bewailing the "unjust" fate of their mass murderers in Israeli prisons. Breivik himself calls his prison conditions "a mini Abu Ghraib."
Israel could also follow the Saudi example of criminal justice by introducing Islamic penalties, including executions, amputations and hours of whipping. In a recent case, two Asian housemaids were sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes of the whip each. This does not seem to have bothered the human rights organizations that loudly publicize mere delays at an Israeli checkpoint. The alleged crime of the housemaids was "sorcery." Apparently their employers felt off-color and imagined that the housemaids has bewitched them. Saudis would say that the housemaids were lucky; in other cases women have been beheaded for sorcery
Israel could avoid such scandals by introducing Islamic punishments for Muslims only. It would be interesting to see Muslim Knesset members, those habitual opponents of every Israeli government decision, seeking excuses not to vote for this one.
So the possibilities for Israel as a Gulf state are vast. We trust that they will be used responsibly, certainly more responsibly than in its fellow Gulf states.