In 1981 members of eight West European Parliaments and of the European Parliament expressed their alarm at the continued failure by Western nations to exert pressures sufficient to bring an end to apartheid and the establishment of a democratic and non-racial society in South Africa. At the conference held in Brussels, it was agreed that firm action was even more urgent because of South Africa’s refusal to implement the United Nations plan on Namibia and because of escalating aggression by South Africa against African States.
Today, it has become clear that the member states of the European Union have clearly demonstrated their lack of political will and genuine desire to assist in ending Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories. European states have not only abstained from voting in favour of a weakly worded United Nations resolution for measures including calling upon relevant United Nations bodies to consider the best ways of providing the necessary international protection for the Palestinian population, but these states have also ignored their own intentions, namely that Europe is not merely an economic union but also a union of shared values.
This European failure has encouraged and continues to encourage the Israeli occupation forces to take even more repressive and violent methods against Palestinian civilians. This in turn increases the desperation of the Palestinian population, and the result is an explosive and highly dangerous situation.
Nonetheless, the European Union is bound by its own declarations on respect for human rights which, according to the Declaration on Human Rights adopted at the Luxembourg European Council in June 1991, are an essential part of its international relations and a cornerstone of European co-operation. On 10 December 1998 the European Union, adopted a Declaration on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that the EU policies in the field of human rights must be “continued and, when necessary strengthened and improved”. The declaration includes six practical steps to strengthen the EU’s human rights policy.
Since the early 1990s, the Europe has included more or less systematically a so-called human rights clause in its bilateral trade and co-operation agreements with third countries, including association agreements. A Council decision of May 1995 spells out the basic modalities of this clause. Since this Council decision of May 1995, the human rights clause has been included in all subsequently negotiated bilateral agreements of a general nature (excluding sectoral agreements on textiles, agricultural products, and so on). More than 20 such agreements have already been signed.
In 1994 the European Council declared that it considers that Israel, on account of its high level of economic development, should enjoy special status in its relation with the European Union on the basis of reciprocity and common interests. This Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement entered into force on 1 June 2000. It was signed on 20 November 1995 and replaced the old 1975 EC-Israel Co-operation Agreement.
At that time, the Association Agreement represented a new development in the relations which existed between Israel and the EU. For the Europe Union, it was based on a common vision of society based on the same value of democracy, respect for human rights and the principles of market economy.
However, today anyone who considers respect for human rights as a shared value within the European Union, must conclude that this value is no longer shared between Europe and Israel. With over 400 Palestinians killed, more than 13,000 injured, with daily violations of most articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to life, liberty and security of person, to freedom of movement, with Palestinians subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, with grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, including home demolitions, and consistent violations of United Nations resolutions, it is Europe that loses it values when it fails to respect its own values.
After the UN Security Council unanimously decided on a mandatory arms embargo against apartheid South Africa in 1963, in the aftermath of the Soweto massacre, the death in detention of Steve Biko, and the banning of black consciousness organisations, several smaller Western countries began taking action against apartheid by prohibiting loans and new investment. Sweden banned the transfer of technology to South Africa and most of the oil-exporting countries, including Norway, prohibited the supply of oil to South Africa. Beginning with the Nordic states in 1966, some Western countries began to support sanctions in principle and soon constituted a large majority of the Western and other states. The non-economic measures – especially the sports and cultural boycotts – were effective in demonstrating abhorrence of apartheid. They have involved millions of people in many countries and have helped to educate public opinion on the horrors of apartheid.
Article 7 of the Treaty of Amsterdam allows for sanctions in case of violations of human rights. Earlier, the European Union has imposed bilateral sanctions against several third countries, such as Austria and Serbia. Moreover, Israel has clearly and continuously violated the EU-Israel Association Agreement, in particular article 2 that made human rights an essential part of he Union’s agreement with Israel. Additionally, the European Union is the major trading partner of Israel.
The European Union must also suspend its Association agreement with Israel as long as Israel continues to violate so-called “shared values”. Moreover, the European Union should suspend its 1999 agreement on scientific co-operation. Israel has been associated respectively to the Fourth and the Fifth Community Research and Development Framework Programmes, enjoying a status equivalent to that of any other EU member state. The European Union must immediately suspend Israel’s “Co-operating State” status in the COST programme and cancel Israel’s membership of the Eureka Network.
A combination of several measures taken by the international community against South Africa has been one of the factors which has led to the end of apartheid. When they imposed sanctions against Israel, the European Union will send a clear signal that Europe is not merely an economic union but also a union of shared values. It must now avoid that that message will be lost in the quagmire that is Europe’s silence towards Israel.
If the European Union respects its own value and human rights are indeed core values vital to the European Union, it must act and start showing its commitment to human rights. If this is not done quickly, the situation will further degenerate into a politically and morally counterproductive show. All of Europe will be the loser.
The author is a Dutch-Palestinian political scientist, human rights activist and is affiliated to the the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (Al-Awda) and ElectronicIntifada.net
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