Presentation to the
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs
David Morrison, Philip O’Connor and Marie Crawley
Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Section 1 Introduction
Our objective today is firstly to show that Israel has failed to fulfill its obligations under agreements with the EU – and that, up to now, the EU has turned a blind eye to these failures and continued to enhance its relations with Israel, mostly recently in June last year. Secondly, it is to recommend to the Irish Government that it act on a number of fronts in relation to EU policy on Israel / Palestine.
Section 2 EU’s Blind Eye towards Israel
The Barcelona Declaration
The most important development in the EU’s relations with Israel occurred in November 1995, with the signing of the Barcelona Declaration, which established the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. This encompassed the 15 EU states at the time plus 11 states in the Mediterranean region, including Israel, Lebanon and Syria.
Israel was in breach of important obligations under the Declaration in November 1995. Nevertheless, the EU allowed it to sign the Declaration. Israel has failed to fulfil important obligations under the Declaration ever since – and the EU has continued to turn a blind eye to its failures.
The following are a few examples of its many failures:-
One. The Barcelona Declaration obliges its signatories to “respect the territorial integrity and unity of each of the other partners”.
In November 1995, parts of Lebanon and Syria were under Israeli military occupation and the Golan Heights had been annexed by Israel. Clearly, Israel was failing to “respect the territorial integrity and unity” of its Lebanese and Syrian partners in November 1995.
This continues to be true today, since Israel is still occupying parts of Lebanon and Syria and Israeli military aircraft frequently invade Lebanese air space.
Two. The Barcelona Declaration obliges its signatories to “act in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other obligations under international law”.
In November 1995, Israel was in military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (as well as parts of Lebanon and Syria) contrary to Article 2.4 of the UN Charter, which obliges UN members to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.
Israel is still occupying militarily large swathes of territory not its own today, in breach of the UN Charter.
Three. Article 25 of the UN Charter requires UN member states “to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council”.
In November 1995, Israel was in violation of some 25 Security Council resolutions requiring action by it and it alone. By failing to implement these resolutions, Israel was in breach of the UN Charter.
These resolutions demanded, amongst other things, that Israel
reverse its annexation of East Jerusalem (resolutions 252, 267, 271, 298, 476 and 478) and the Golan Heights (resolution 497)
reverse its annexation of the Golan Heights (resolution 497)
open its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection (resolution 487).
Had Israel implemented these resolutions at the time they were passed or since, the political situation in Palestine would have been transformed. It hasn’t and therefore remains in breach of the UN Charter.
Four. The Barcelona Declaration obliges its signatories to act in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 7 of which states that everyone is “entitled to equal protection against any discrimination”.
The Israeli state deliberately discriminates against its Arab minority (which makes up nearly 20% of its population) and has done so since the foundation of the state. The EU has said so, and the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, has said so. It is therefore in breach of Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
An EU report from April 2004 states that “Israeli legislation contains laws and regulations that favour the Jewish majority” and “the Arab minority also suffers from discrimination in many areas including budget allocations, official planning, employment, education and health”.
Giving evidence to a parliamentary commission of inquiry on 11 November last year, Ehud Olmert said: “We have not yet overcome the barrier of discrimination, which is a deliberate discrimination and the gap is insufferable”. He continued:
“… there are government agencies who employ a miniscule number of Israeli Arabs, among them the Bank of Israel and Israel Electric Company. There is no argument that there were ministries and offices that did not accept Arabs. It's terrible that there is not even one Arab employee at the Bank of Israel and at the Electric Company Arab workers represent less than one percent of all employees.”
Five. Israel is in breach of international law, and therefore of the Barcelona Declaration, by refusing to implement the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the wall it has built in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. In July 2004, the Court declared that the construction of the wall was contrary to international law and ordered Israel to cease its construction forthwith and dismantle the existing structure.
Israel has categorically refused to comply with these obligations and has continued to build the wall. It has maintained this recalcitrant stance despite a near unanimous demand by the international community that it complies. In resolution ES-10/15, passed in August 2004 by 150 votes to 6, the UN General Assembly demanded compliance. Ireland, and all other EU states, supported the resolution.
Regrettably, the EU has turned a blind eye to all of these failures by Israel to fulfil its obligations under the Barcelona Declaration.
The Euro-Med Agreement
Let us now turn to the Euro-Med Agreement.
Israel has had privileged access to the EU since 2000, as a result of an Association Agreement with the EU under the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. This is commonly known as the Euro-Med Agreement. This Agreement is very important to Israel, since around a third of its exports are to the EU.
Article 2 of the Agreement imposes human rights obligations on Israel. It says:
“Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.”
That states plainly that human rights compliance by Israel is an essential element of the Agreement – not an optional element, nor a desirable element, but an essential element.
Israel has continuously failed to live up to the human rights obligations in Article 2. The following are a few examples of its many failures:-
One As we have already seen, the Israeli state discriminates against its Arab minority: in the words of Ehud Olmert, the discrimination is “deliberate” and “the gap is insufferable”. Clearly, Israel’s internal policy towards its Arab minority is not guided by respect for their human rights and therefore Israel is in breach of Article 2.
Two In recent years, Israel has engaged in the economic strangulation of Gaza, by closing the crossings between Israel and Gaza. This is in breach of international humanitarian law, to be specific, Articles 33 and 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Article 55 requires that:
“To the fullest extent of the means available to it the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.”
Israel has signally failed to fulfil this obligation placed upon the Occupying Power by international humanitarian law.
This has not merely been a sin of omission on Israel’s part. On the contrary, it has been a deliberate act of Israeli policy, with the objective of exerting pressure on the people of Gaza collectively to reject Hamas. As such, it is in breach of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids the Occupying Power from applying “collective penalties” on people under occupation.
In February 2008, John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, reported to the Security Council on Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza. He said:
“… the effective Israeli isolation of Gaza is not justified, given Israel’s continuing obligations to the people of Gaza. It amounts to collective punishment and is contrary to international humanitarian law.”
The Irish Foreign Minister, Dermot Ahern, agreed, telling Dail Eireann in March 2008:
“I remain deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza. It is unacceptable that Israel should isolate the people of Gaza and cut off essential supplies in order to exert pressure on them to reject Hamas. I agree with the United Nations that this constitutes collective punishment and is illegal under international humanitarian law.”
Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza is contrary to international humanitarian law. Israel is therefore in breach of Article 2 of the Euro-Med Agreement.
Three In its military assault on Gaza, which began on 27 December, Israeli forces killed over 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 400 women and children. Various inquiries – by UN bodies and independent human rights NGOs – have produced extensive evidence of human rights violations by Israeli forces, amounting in many instances to war crimes.
For example, a UN Board of Inquiry limited to investigating Israeli attacks on UN facilities concluded that
“IDF actions involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries, and extensive physical damage and loss of property.”
UN Human Rights Council report on 23 March stated that “there are strong and credible reports of war crimes and other violations of international norms”.
There is not the slightest doubt that respect for the human rights of Palestinians did not guide Israeli actions during its military assault on Gaza.
Regrettably, the EU has turned a blind eye to all of these failures by Israel to fulfil its obligations under Article 2 of the Euro-Med Agreement.
A final point: last September, the EU decided that negotiations with Russia about a new partnership agreement would be postponed until Russia ended its military occupation of Georgia, which at the time had lasted a month. Had the EU applied this condition to Israel in 1995, the EU would have refused to enter into negotiations with Israel about becoming a partner until it ended its military occupation of Lebanon, Syria and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, occupation which had lasted very much longer.
If the EU were to apply this condition to Israel today, it would cancel all agreements with Israel until it withdraws to its 1967 boundaries. But the EU appears to be blind to the fact that Israel has occupied vast swathes of territories not its own for decades.
Section 3 Recent developments
We welcome the current initiative led by President Obama for another round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO, providing Israel accepts that the goal of these negotiations is “an independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state”.
This goal is laid down in the Roadmap, which the Israeli government, led by Ariel Sharon, agreed to in May 2003. Israel should not be allowed to set aside past agreements.
At present, the Israeli government, led by Benyamin Netanyahu, is unwilling to accept this as the ultimate outcome. In his speech on 14 June, he made it clear that the Palestinian “state” he envisaged was, at best, a form of autonomy, with Israel retaining ultimate control. This could not be described as “an independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state” by any stretch of the imagination.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has also set his face against freezing all settlement activity, as prescribed in the Roadmap. Israel’s relentless colonisation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has already jeopardised the creation of a viable Palestinian state. So, it is essential that the colonisation process be halted before negotiations begin and remain halted during the negotiations.
Minister Martin told the Dail a few months ago:
“I have repeatedly expressed my serious concerns regarding the construction and expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. As I have stated on several occasions, continued settlement construction has a direct and negative impact on the political process. It also prejudges the outcome of final status negotiations and threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution.”
We wholeheartedly agree with Minister Martin.
During the eight years of peace negotiations after Oslo was signed, the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied territories doubled. This was the reward that the PLO received for recognising Israel’s right to exist and entering into negotiations with it.
Commenting on this, Michael Tarazy, a legal advisor to the PLO, said: “It’s like you and I are negotiating over a piece of pizza. “How much of the pizza do I get? And how much do you get? And while we are negotiating it, you are eating it”. Israel must be forced to stop eating the pizza.
If Israel remains unwilling to commit to “an independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state” and to cease planting Jewish settlers on the territory meant for that state, then a further round of negotiations is pointless.
Then, the only political option left will be a single bi-national state, with a Palestinian majority. In the 21st Century, an Israeli government cannot forever rule over all the people between the Jordan and the Sea, as it has done since 1967, without a proper democratic mandate. There will have to be “one man one vote” for everyone currently subject to Israeli rule.
We welcome the fact that
the proposed upgrade in EU-Israel relations has been put on hold
the EU stated that the upgrade needs to be in the context of “the resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict through the implementation of the two-state solution”
We also welcome the fact that the EU has urged Israel to commit to a two-state solution and to freeze all settlement activity. The EU is in position to apply political and economic pressure on Israel to make this a reality, because it has granted Israel privileged access to the EU market, under the EU-Israel Association Agreement, and around a third of Israel’s exports are sold into that market. That provides the EU with powerful leverage. It should use it.
Section 4 Engagement with Hamas
Last June, Israel agreed ceasefire arrangements with Hamas. As a result, Hamas fired no rockets or mortars out of Gaza into Israel from 19 June, when the ceasefire came into operation, until 4 November.
These arrangements came about because Israel engaged in dialogue with Hamas, with Egypt acting as an intermediary. This dialogue was very productive, leading as it did to four and a half months of calm during which the threat to Israeli civilians from rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza virtually disappeared (the few rockets fired in this period were from small groups other than Hamas, and Israeli officials have conceded that Hamas was actively engaged in trying to prevent the firing of any rockets at all).
Hamas kept its side of the bargain and the ceasefire might still be in operation had Israel not made its military incursion into Gaza on 4 November killing 6 members of Hamas, contrary to the ceasefire arrangements. It should be noted that Israel never implemented the other major aspect of its side of the ceasefire agreement – easing its crippling economic blockade of Gaza. After the Israeli military incursion of 4 November, Hamas restarted rocket and mortar firing into Israel in retaliation.
Israel didn’t need to launch a military assault on Gaza on 27 December, and kill over 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 500 women and children, in order to protect its citizens from rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza. All it had to do was to stick to the terms of the ceasefire it had agreed with Hamas. It chose not to do so.
It is imperative now that last years’s ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas be restored, this time with Israel ending its economic blockade of Gaza once and for all, so that the misery suffered by the people of Gaza is reduced and its infrastructure can be rebuilt.
Remember that, in November 2005, in the Agreement on Movement & Access sponsored by the US and EU, Israel promised that the crossings between Israel and Gaza would “operate continuously” so that people and goods could move in and out of Gaza. Israel broke that promise. Israel also promised bus and truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza beginning in December 2005 and the development of a seaport and an airport in Gaza. It broke those promises too.
The EU is forever demanding that Palestinians adhere to past agreements. It is long past time for the EU to insist that Israel adheres to this one.
It is simply unrealistic to suppose that a settlement can be arrived at in Palestine without the involvement of Hamas. It represents too large a proportion of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza, perhaps a majority. Hamas must be engaged with, without the type of preconditions that make engagement impossible.
Hamas contested elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council for the first time in January 2006, winning 74 out of the 132 seats (compared with Fatah’s 45). Hamas won a majority of the seats in the West Bank, as well as in Gaza. It is universally agreed that these elections were free and fair.
At that time, Hamas had not engaged in armed resistance for nearly a year, having maintained a truce from February 2005. Hamas spokesmen made it clear then, and continue to make it clear today, that they were seeking a long-term truce with Israel, the price being Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. The Hamas leadership at the time said it was prepared to work a solution along these lines on the basis of the 1967 borders. Recently it has repeated this position.
Starting a Middle East peace process without Hamas in 2009 is as unrealistic as starting the Northern Ireland peace process in the 1990s without Sinn Féin would have been – as George Mitchell, who has been appointed President Obama’s Special Envoy in the Middle East, no doubt well recognises.
Section 5 IPSC Recommendations
We request that this committee recommend to the Irish Government that it:
demand publicly that the Euro-Med Agreement under which Israel has privileged access to the EU market be suspended until Israel complies with International Law.
call for a formal inquiry into whether Israel is fulfilling its obligations according to Article 2 of the Euro-Med Agreement.
veto any proposed upgrade in EU relations with Israel.
demand publicly that Israel reverse its settlement construction, illegal occupation and annexation of land in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions and to use its influence in international fora to bring this about.
demand that the EU re-engage with Hamas as the political party elected by the Palestinian people and insist that Israel honour commitments given in previous peace negotiations.
Section 6 Conclusion
Why should the Irish Government adopt these recommendations?
The positions of the IPSC have the overwhelming support of the Irish people.
EU foreign policy will be a significant factor in the forthcoming referendum on Lisbon. By acting on our calls to suspend the Euro-Mediterranean agreement and to veto any proposed upgrade in relations with Israel the Irish Government would actively demonstrate it is willing to stand out and exercise an independent foreign policy in the EU.
If Governments do not act and use the diplomatic and legal tools at their disposal, Israel will continue to act with impunity and we risk a repeat of the recent onslaught on Gaza.
Some country in the western world must demonstrate leadership and courage and impose sanctions against the State of Israel for its actions. The people of Palestine look to Ireland for this leadership because there are similarities in our history - occupation, plantation and land theft. The Irish government is ideally placed to take a leadership position in Europe.
We in the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign believe the Irish Government, with the support of its people, has the moral and political courage to take the diplomatic steps we have outlined and, in so doing, issue the strongest possible statement that Ireland will not collude with a state which systematically brutalises and oppresses the people of Palestine.
Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
: Room 5, 64 Dame Street, Dublin 2
Ph: 01-677-0253 Email: email@example.com. Website: www.ipsc.ie