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28 February 2019

What does the EU still need to do for Palestine?

By: Daoud Kuttab
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Europe has done a lot for Palestine. It has been the strongest and most reliable partner for Palestine, providing Palestinians with a variety of supportive actions and supporting the government with budgetary aid to ensure its continuity. When US President Donald Trump’s administration rescinded its international obligations to the UN refugee agency UNRWA, Europe helped lead the world in supporting and fund raising to cover the unexpected deficit. Europe has eased business and trade deals with the Palestinians and has placed restrictions on the sale of products from illegal Jewish settlements.

Arab and European leaders met this week in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh, and they all agreed that the Israeli occupation is bad and that the two-state solution on the 1967 borders is the way out.

So while we have agreement on the goal and we have proof that Europe has often translated its words into actions and budgets, what more is needed from Palestine’s European neighbours?

It might sound ungrateful, but I am sure the Palestinians would trade all the money they have received from Europe for the simple act of recognising Palestine and ensuring that such a recognition can be translated into reality.

Europe, as well as the international community, bears responsibility for the Palestine crisis. European wars, holocausts and anti-Semitism are blamed in large part on the creation of modern-day Zionism, which sought to find a homeland for the persecuted Jews. Today’s Europeans should not be held responsible for that, but at the same time they should not feel guilty. Financial support without serious political pressure is exactly like the often-repeated developmental story of “teach me how to fish instead of giving me fish”.

Europe, for example, is the biggest economic partner of Israel. While it is true that EU regulations have increased restrictions on the export of products made in illegal West Bank settlements, the overall Israel-EU trade is in the tens of billions of dollars. EU scientific support to Israel is also very large, as is the fact that Israelis, including those living in illegal settlements, can travel without visa to Europe; a privilege that is not given to Palestinians.

Most European parliaments, including those in the founding states of France, Spain and the UK, have voted overwhelmingly to recognise Palestine, but only one country, Sweden, has had the courage to buck the pressures and recognise the state of Palestine. European officials say that they want to use the idea of a united recognition of Palestine as a bargaining chip to help Israel overcome its opposition. This has yet to happen. Some expected that the first ever Arab League–European Union Summit would be the occasion to make such a joint declaration, but, alas, that also has not happened. The next Arab-European Summit is scheduled for three years, so will this issue wait another three years?

European officials respond that on foreign policy issues, the EU has to reach total consensus before making any joint decision. All 28 member states need to agree before Brussels can make such a policy a European one. Countries like Germany, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are apparently among those hesitating in agreeing on recognising Palestine before there is a peace agreement.

The reluctance of some of these European countries comes from two different backgrounds. Some, like Germany, continue to suffer from the guilt of what happened in World War II and, therefore, are not willing to anger the Israelis or the Jews, who they continue to pay reparations for what happened in the Holocaust by the Germans. Others who have joined the EU more recently, and specifically after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, feel strong ties to Washington and are not willing to anger or upset their American allies, who they feel helped them get out of the bondage of the Soviet Union.

Political justifications aside, the world is moving in the direction of recognising Palestine, even as Israel makes the two-state solution more and more unrealistic by continuing its illegal settlement acts. The election of Palestine to head the group of 77 plus China, which represents over 130 UN member states, is a clear international signal that this is where the world is heading.

Europe has done a lot to support Palestine and to declare its opposition to the Israeli occupation and all the disastrous results that have come out of the Israeli rule, including the colonial settlement enterprise and the general Israeli shift to the right, with its fascist and racist tendencies. The time has come for Europe to take a courageous step and declare its recognition of Palestine on the 1967 borders as the embodiment of the universally accepted two-state solution.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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