Has the European Union reached a tipping point over Israel? Or to be more precise, is the Europeans’ bluff finally to be called over Israel’s proposal to extend its sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria?
The E.U. has been mulling over punitive measures against Israel if it goes ahead with what its Western critics call “annexation of the occupied territories of the West Bank.”
A number of member states, headed by France along with Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Belgium and Luxembourg, are calling for a hard line.
Measures being considered include supporting any U.N. moves against “annexation”; public support of proceedings against Israel currently underway in the International Criminal Court at The Hague; and increasing the boycott of settlements in various ways, along with increased financial support for the Palestinians.
The E.U. and Britain maintain that Israel is illegally occupying the disputed territories, and that its settlements there amount to a transfer of population into those lands in contravention of the Geneva Convention.
This is a serious misreading of international law. Israel is not “occupying” these territories. In law, occupation can only occur if the land belongs to a sovereign power, which was never the case here; and a state can also hold onto land which continues to be used for belligerent purposes against it.
It is also a gross misreading of the Geneva Convention, as the Israelis living in these territories were not transferred but moved there entirely of their own volition.
The animus against Israel by both the E.U. and Britain is of long standing. Let’s rephrase that: The animus against Israel by the European and British political class and intelligentsia is of long standing.
For although the E.U. and Britain condemn Israel for “illegal occupation,” fail to defend it against the malice of the United Nations and endorse the meretricious rulings against it at the European Court of Justice, they are nevertheless trading with Israel at ever-increasing levels, as well as depending heavily upon it for crucial military and intelligence support.
So while defaming Israel in the court of world opinion, they have been simultaneously milking its genius for their own benefit. They want to hurt it—but not enough to hurt themselves.
Their hostility is the product of three factors: historic and ineradicable anti-Jewish prejudice; the pathological inability to deal with collective guilt over the Holocaust; and the perception that their interests have for decades lain with the Arab world.
Now, though, something more interesting has been occurring to undermine this collective animus.
In 2004, the E.U. expanded to include a number of post-communist countries from central and eastern Europe, such as Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Unlike Western Europe, these countries are friendly towards Israel. This is not because their populations are free of anti-Jewish prejudice or that these states are free of Holocaust guilt. On the contrary, central and eastern Europe has a terrible history of deeply embedded Catholic anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish pogroms and atrocities against the Jews both during and after the Holocaust.
The friendship extended by these countries towards Israel is therefore all the more striking. A major reason is that, reacting against their recent experience of Soviet oppression, they are determined to assert once again their historic national identity.
They are having to do so in the teeth of a liberal orthodoxy that the Western nation is fundamentally racist, exploitative and dangerous, and that it must be superseded by trans-national institutions like the U.N. or the E.U.
These former Communist countries joined the E.U. because they believed it was in their economic interests to do so. Nevertheless, there stretches a deep philosophical chasm between them and the European monolith.
For the E.U. was founded on the idea—in line with the progressive belief that the West is fundamentally evil, and that nationalism leads straight to fascism—that the independence of the European nation state had to be obliterated.
That’s another reason why the E.U. is so hostile towards Israel, the paradigm nation state that has such a strong cultural and national identity—and, worse still for an E.U. that has a neuralgic aversion to military action, whose people are prepared to fight and die to defend their nation.
This is precisely why the former communist states, which are so anxious to retain their newly won independence and freedoms, identify so strongly with Israel and feel such an affinity for it.
Some other countries which similarly have been experiencing a resurgence of national spirit share this affinity.
Last February, six European member states, including Italy, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic successfully thwarted the E.U.’s proposed condemnation of the Trump “peace plan.” E.U. foreign-policy declarations must have the agreement of all 27 member states.
Some of the hostile measures being considered over “annexation,” though, do not require unanimous consent. Nevertheless, does the E.U. really think it’s still in its interests to pursue this vendetta?
It’s been reported that the E.U. Commission is considering proposals to include Israel in a series of funding and co-operation projects on education and science with high academic and research significance.
And there are signs that the E.U. is hesitating over its punishment of Israel. Earlier this month, after the E.U. Foreign Affairs Council discussed its response to Israel’s sovereignty move, its High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, was cautious in his language.
The issue, he said, was complex, as were sanctions against Israel. Although some member states wanted to consider how to prevent “annexation,” “that doesn’t mean we’ll do it tomorrow.”
Moreover, asked whether Israel’s proposed action was similar to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, he said there was a difference between annexing territory that belongs to a sovereign state and that of the Palestinians.
Quite so. And coming from an E.U. official, such a statement of the obvious is a significant step away from its customary knee-jerk legal legerdemain.
It would hardly be surprising if the E.U. is now recalibrating just where its interests lie. Support for the Palestinians in the Arab world has collapsed; Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states badly need Israel and the United States to defeat Iran.
The only support for the Palestinian cause now comes from an alliance of Western liberals, Iran, and other rogue states and tyrannies. Is that really an alliance of which the E.U. can be proud?
Taking punitive action against Israel would also expose it to the wrath of U.S. President Donald Trump. And all this against the background of the catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens to hammer the final nail in the coffin of European economic health and may even accelerate the disintegration of the E.U. altogether.
If Israel with its stellar scientific record were to come up with either a vaccine or an effective antidote to the coronavirus, would the E.U. really want to be jeopardizing its own ability to benefit from this?
At the moment, though, the widespread fury over the proposed extension of Israeli sovereignty constitutes merely shadow-boxing. No one even knows the precise details of the territories involved because it seems these have not yet achieved final agreement.
If and when this does eventually turn into a concrete proposal, the European Union and the United Kingdom will finally have to decide how to react. And at that point, we will discover whether or not the unthinkable has actually happened and the world really has changed.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy,” in 2018. Her work can be found at: www.melaniephillips.com.