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EU shedding impartiality before Israel-Palestine peace talks begin

Commentary: Guidelines seek to keep Israel within pre-1967 borders.
EU Israel Palestine talks 173954935Enlarge
A construction site for a new neighborhood is seen on July 18, 2013 in the Jewish Settlement of Ariel in the West Bank. Israeli President Shimon Peres urged the European Union not to publish its new guidelines regarding Israeli settlements to avoid hindering the peace process. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC — The European Union seems to be going out of its way to shed any pretext of neutrality on the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

The latest affront is new guidelines from the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU. The measure would restrict funding, grants and overall cooperation by the EU with any Israeli institutions that operate in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that are beyond the lines established in the Six-Day War in 1967.

This ban impacts territories that should be discussed at negotiations between the two sides and is an attempt by the EU to pressure Israel to keep the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders.

Why now? Why would the EU go to such lengths to undermine recent movement in the peace talks?

US Secretary of State John Kerry has been back and forth to the region six times in the last few months trying to restart the stalled process. On July 19, the two sides agreed to meet to talk about the parameters for resuming actual peace talks. Though incremental, the attention greeting this step demonstrates the fundamental element in the entire peace process — two sides sitting down together.

If Kerry’s efforts are to succeed, then prejudging the outcome by the EU can only stiffen the backs of the Palestinians or lead them to believe they can talk to Kerry but always go to what has effectively become an “EU court of appeals” to make their case and change the outcome.

Even if Kerry is able to bring the Palestinians to the actual negotiating table, is the EU capable of an objective role, given its track record?

This EU effort undercuts his work, and leaves Israel out of the conversation entirely. The EU’s guidelines punish Israel and reward the Palestinians. We’ve seen a similar approach at the United Nations, where the international community continually holds Israel up to opprobrium and is not really interested in giving it a say in its future security, borders or other points that should be the subject of negotiation and compromise.

When the Palestinians know others will do the heavy lifting for them, they are much less likely to talk seriously with Israel. The EU and United Nations’ efforts provide a way for the Palestinians to continue to avoid confronting the notion of compromise with Israel. If they feel they can get what they want, without having to negotiate over it, it lessens their commitment to cooperate with Israel.

Seemingly, the EU and the United Nations have become spokesmen for the Palestinians—often representing their cause at the expense of pressing them to negotiate and compromise. This EU involvement raises Palestinian expectations to unreasonable and impossible levels—leaving them to believe that their demands will simply be endorsed in the court of global public opinion.

If the narrative is being laid out by the EU and the Palestinians, where does that leave Israel?

This new ruling defining how the Europeans are favoring the Palestinians will surely lessen Israeli confidence at a time when Israel’s neighborhood is torn by chaos, disarray and uncertainty. This is precisely the wrong impression to leave with Israel, which now faces increasing instability on its borders and is being asked to take ever-greater risks as a result of it.

If the EU is serious about its responsibilities as a member of the Quartet - together with the United States, Russia and the United Nations - it would be encouraging the Palestinians to move to the negotiating table, compromise and reach an agreement, rather than exacerbating the effort to get there.

On July 21, the EU designated the “military wing” of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, but determined that Hezbollah has a separate “political” section. This revelation underscored the unevenness of the EU’s efforts and approach when dealing with the Middle East situation.

Though acknowledging Hezbollah’s terrorist activities is a significant step, any talk of a distinction between Hezbollah’s “military” and “political” sides is contrived. With this dual—and misguided—designation, Hezbollah will continue its terror business as usual. The EU should be willing to do more.

The Venice Declaration of 1980 was an early expression of European preferences in this contentious dispute. Nine European nations concluded they needed to elevate the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—known for its terrorist activity—as a legitimate entity, while suggesting limits be placed on Israel’s security needs. This declaration took place at the height of the PLO’s central role in the control of a terrorist state-within-a-state in Lebanon.

The new EU guidelines continue in that tradition.

Brussels tips its hand to its true agenda by singling out for boycott specific non-governmental organizations, and also describing Gaza on a list of “territories occupied by Israel since June 1967,” despite the fact that Israel withdrew all presence from Gaza in 2005. These aspects of the document add evidence to the folly that the guidelines are balanced. The EU bias is clear.

A two-state solution can only be achieved when Israel and the Palestinians sit together to negotiate it, without preconditions. This move by the EU effectively eliminates that step and, in the process, annuls Israel’s right to have a say in its own future.

The EU should step back and re-evaluate its approach. It needs to decide whether it wants to be a mouthpiece for one side or a body which supports a peace process that has any chance of succeeding.

Daniel S. Mariaschin is executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, an organization that is pro-Israeli.

Editor's note: This post has been edited from a previous version. Under international law, Israel's occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is illegal; Israel disputes this.

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