On September 16 the European Jewish Congress, which claims to represent some 2.5 million Jews across Europe, put out an advertisement in the Financial Times. In this ad the European Union was urged not to implement a new set of guidelines prohibiting EU funding to reach Israeli institutions maintaining activities or situated across the Green Line in Occupied Palestinian Territory. The EJC claimed that such policies are detrimental not only to Israelis but also to Europeans, to the peace process and – believe it or not! – to Palestinians as well.
Back in July, hundreds of Israelis, including Israel Prize winners Yehoshua Kolodny, Zeev Sternhell and David Tartakover, signed a petition urging the EU to implement these very same guidelines. The signatories described the guidelines as “an act of friendship” which will “accelerate the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and will increase chances to bring both sides to the negotiating table towards an agreement”. Whereas Moshe Kantor, the president of the EJC who personally signed the ad in the Financial Times, seems all too keen to protect the interests of Israels settlements, these Israelis are fully aware of what the settlements, as one of the most visible aspects of the Occupation, are doing not only to the Palestinians, but to Israel as well. The longer the Occupation persists and deepens, the more unlikely it becomes for a two state solution to materialize and for Israel to live up to its vision of being an enlightened democracy in peace with its neighbors.
Instead of urging the Netanyahu government to do all in its power to end the Occupation and reach a peace agreement, the EJC has decided to make an effort in blocking any real pressure to keep both sides – Israelis and Palestinians – at the negotiating table. This pressure does in fact work: it sends out a clear message to the Israeli government that its settlement policies can no longer be accepted and are detrimental to peace. And it gives the Palestinian leadership a much needed European incentive to stay involved in the peace process, support of which has hit a tremendous low on the Palestinian street after years of ongoing Israeli settlement construction and what is perceived as a total unwillingness of consecutive Israeli governments to end the Occupation.
But Moshe Kantor has even more chutzpah than just placing his bets on the wrong horse. He refers to the thousands of Palestinians working in the settlements who will be directly affected by these EU guidelines. The EJC president ‘worries’ that the guidelines will “set back the social and economic well-being of Palestinians”. Besides the fact that these Palestinians hardly have any labor rights, are still grossly underpaid and forced to work under conditions many in Israel proper would not be willing to accept, Kantor should look at the cause and effect behind all of this. The main reason the Palestinian economy is in a dire condition, with unemployment rates skyrocketing and Palestinians finding their way to employment in the settlements, is Israels Occupation, as was yet again confirmed recently by the IMF. Israeli obstacles, from roadblocks and border controls to its absurd permit system, are immensely damaging to the Palestinian economy. The Palestinian Authority is moving towards financial collapse according to some, with the EU spending hundreds of millions of Euros trying to prevent it. If the EJC president is really committed to the wellbeing of the Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I strongly urge him to take a stance against the Occupation instead of showing a rather superficial concern of what the guidelines will mean for Palestinians working in the settlements.
The new settlement guidelines should be seen as the EU doing the true and only right thing: taking a stance against Israeli settlement policies, against a deepening Occupation. An Occupation which will spell the end of the State of Israel if no strong measures are being taken. The European Union is thus acting as a true friend of Israel. When will Moshe Kantor drop its support for the settlements and do the same?