Israel/Palestine: A test case for the new EU Foreign policy team

Wednesday, November 5, 2014 - 16:13

On 12th October, the governments of Norway and Egypt hosted a large conference of donors for Gaza in Cairo. Their purpose was to collect pledges for the rebuilding of Gaza after Israel’s 50-day bombardment of the area. This is the third time it’s become necessary to rebuild Gaza in the last six years, as the cycle of violence tries the patience of the international community.

In advance of the conference, the Palestinian Authority said that $4 billion would be needed to restore Gaza this time. The goal was exceeded, with pledges from some 50 countries amounting to $5.4 billion. The EU and its member states pledged more than €450 million for the reconstruction of the Gaza strip.

While necessary, pledges for reconstruction cannot be a substitute for a long-term solution. As recently stressed by the UN Secretary General, the cycle of building and destroying must end, and the underlying causes of the conflict must be addressed: “an end to the occupation that has grinded on for nearly half a century, a full lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip and effectively addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns.”

The EU is the main donor for Palestine, and the main trading partner of Israel and is therefore in a unique position to influence both parties to the conflict and make sure the cycle of violence ends.

Many believe that the fate of the reconstruction, and of Gaza more generally, depends on the ability of the Palestinian Authority (in control of the West Bank) and Hamas (that controls most of Gaza) to forge a working government of National Consensus. While whether this is going to happen remains to be seen, the Israeli government continues to develop plans for new settlements in East Jerusalem and West Bank, in spite of the fact that international law is clear: settlement activity is illegal.

Various EU member states have adopted guidelines on labelling of goods imported from the settlements. A test case for the newly appointed EC Vice-President and High Representative for EU Foreign Policy, Ms. Mogherini, will be to see whether she rapidly follows up on the commitments made by her predecessor to publish EU labelling guidelines to ensure consistent implementation throughout the 28 member states. Such labelling should facilitate the task of customs authorities in EU countries to determine which exporters are entitled to the benefits of Israel’s customs agreements with the EU. It will also allow European consumers to make an informed choice when deciding which products to buy.