Gerald M. Steinberg

The EU’s Hamas fiasco exposes broken system

The 'technical glitch' that took Hamas off a list of terror groups was more rule than exception

The ruling of the European General Court to strike down the inclusion of Hamas and in the European Union’s list of terror organizations, was, we are told, due to a minor technical problem, and readily corrected. According to the court, the original decision in 2003 was not based on a careful study of the evidence, such as bus bombings and other acts of mass murder conducted by the Palestinian group. Rather, the EU Court ruled that “the contested measures are based not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the Internet.”

However, far from a minor and irrelevant technical glitch, as claimed by EU officials, the Hamas court case provided a long overdue window into the systematic failures of European Union’s foreign policy decision making, particularly regarding complex Israeli-Arab issues. Even a cursory examination of these EU policies exposes the degree to which slogans and myths, as repeated by journalists and officials of non-govermental organizations (NGOs), form the basis for decisions on crucial issues of war and peace. And the NGO input is, in turn, recycled through ready to print press releases, and quoted by the government officials. The result is an EU echo chamber, easily manipulated and cut off from the real world.

For example, last year, the foreign ministers of the EU, acting upon recommendations from their delegates in Brussels, and led by officials of the European Union External Action Service with their own agendas, adopted a policy of “guidelines” or a form of economic sanctions on Israel. This is part of a wider campaign to force israel back to the 1949 cease fire lines (mistakenly labeled the “pre-1967 borders”), and, in theory, impose an agreement without any change in the Palestinian narrative and incitement.

In taking this far-reaching political action, the EU did not create a task force, hold public hearings, or summon expert witnesses with differing perspectives. Instead, the molders of policy making on Israel in the bureaucracy of the EEAS outsourced the process, adopting the claims, biases, and problematic analyses of powerful NGOs, many of which are, in turn, funded by the EU. The steady diet of NGO publications was packaged in EU Heads of Missions reports (HoMs) for easy digestion.

The failure of the EU to dedicate serious resources to the independent collection of data and analysis is endemic across many issues. Many of the EU’s policies regarding Israel and the conflict are made by cutting and pasting the publications and tracts of political advocacy groups, including on such complex and sensitive isues as Jerusalem, borders, human rights, Bedoiun land claims in the Negev, and the status of other Israeli minority groups. The claims of these groups, in turn, are usually based on hearsay (“Palestinian eyewitness testimony), and, as in the case of the Hamas decision in 2001, media reports and “the internet”.

EU policy making regarding Jerusalem – the most volatile issue for Israel — also reflects the pathologies exposed by the EGC court decision on Hamas. EU statements and policy involvement regarding Jerusalem, which again supports the Palestinian positions, is articulated in 2010, 2011 and 2012 EU Heads of Mission reports, from where they go to Brussels for confirmation. These “reports” are also based on outsourcing,and the texts are largely a cut and paste from NGO publications.

For example, the section titled “Planning Demolition, Evictions and Displacement” in the 2011 report closely reflects a document produced by a fringe political NGO known as ICAHD (the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions). Of the 10 claims analyzed in this section, eight are directly attributable to ICAHD, one to Ir Amim (another NGO), and one to a UN agency which itself is a vehicle for NGO. ICAHD immorally demonizes Israel with accusations of “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “field testing weaponry and tactics [on Palestinians] to be exported…and further perfecting its model of sustained control, of warehousing – the Matrix of Control – in the Palestinian laboratory”. (This poisonous agenda did not prevent the EU’s EIDHR framework from giving ICAHD €169,661 between 2010 and 2012.)

There are many more examples of the EU’s lack of due diligence — all depressingly following a similar pattern of outsourcing policy making on complex and high value issues, particularly related to Israel, to institutions and processes that lack basic accountability requirements. And the reverse is also true — items that are not on the NGO and media agendas are also missing or low on the EEAS and EU priority lists. Thus, while a huge NGO- EU structure exists to count every centimeter of construction over the 1949 Green Line “settlements”, and to support the flood of unsupported allegations of Israeli “war crimes”, there is no such lobby or framework to report on Hamas terrorism.

Given this background, while it may seem naively optimistic, perhaps the EGC ruling on Hamas and the EU terror list can become a trigger for the EU to undertake a major revision of its foreign policy making process. Although couched in terms of a “technical failure”, such failures are systematic and widespread. To begin repairing the system, the EEAS and other EU bodies will have to replace reliance on fringe ideological NGOs with real experts, familiar with the complexities that go beyond myths and slogans.

About the Author
Gerald Steinberg is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Bar Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor. His latest book is "Menachem Begin and the Israel-Egypt Peace Process: Between Ideology and Political Realism", (Indiana University Press)