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Should EU trade rules favour Israel? Here’s what your MEPs think

SE England MEPs

The EU- Israel Association Agreement gives Israel preferential access to European markets (at a time when Palestinians face crippling barriers to getting their goods to market) and – incredibly – allows Israeli government departments and arms companies to access EU funding. It also normalises relations with what should be regarded as a rogue state.

More than 300 trade unions, NGOs and other civil society organisations from across Europe have called on the EU to end its support for Israel’s crimes, including by suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement. You can do so, too, here. You can find more information about the EU-Israel Association Agreement here.

We’ve already had some replies from a few of the 10 MEPs who represent us in the South East of England – and we thought you would like to know what your representatives say on this issue. Below you can see what position each of our MEPs takes. If we hear from those who have not yet replied, we will update this article.

  • Richard Ashworth (Conservative) – Replied but did not state clear position for or against suspending the trade agreement – see below for more of his response
  • Janice Atkinson (UKIP) – HAS NOT REPLIED
  • Catherine Bearder (Lib Dem) – Has “considerable sympathy” with the idea of suspending the trade agreement – see below for more of her response
  • Nirj Deva (Conservative) – HAS NOT REPLIED
  • Anneliese Dodds (Labour) – Not in favour of suspending the trade agreement – see below for more of her response
  • Nigel Farage (UKIP) – HAS NOT REPLIED
  • Raymond Finch (UKIP) – HAS NOT REPLIED
  • Daniel Hannan (Conservative) – HAS NOT REPLIED
  • Diane James (UKIP) – HAS NOT REPLIED
  • Keith Taylor MEP (Green) – In favour of suspending the trade agreement – see below for more of his response

Detailed responses:

Richard Ashworth (Conservative)

According to most recent accounts, the conflict this summer between Israel and Gaza cost 2,215 lives, the overwhelming majority of whom were Gazans. The ECR offers its condolences to the friends and families of all of those who were killed.

We welcome the end to the hostilities but understand that lasting peace can only be achieved when all sides return to the negotiating table, in order to bring about a two state solution based on a viable democratic Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel, based on the 1967 borders with land for peace swaps.

The priority now is the reconstruction of Gaza and finding ways to permanently house the estimated 60,000 Gazans that are still living in temporary shelters. Sunday 12th October marked the opening of the Gaza Reconstruction Conference, which is being hosted jointly by Egypt and Norway in Cairo. It is estimated that the total cost of reconstruction will be approximately $4 billion.

The ECR notes the comments of the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, in which he said that the “the cycle of building and destroying must end” and that “it is time to chart a course to a just and final peace between Israeli’s and Palestinians”. The ECR calls on both sides to heed these words, as well as calling on both sides in the immediate future to co-operate with the reconstruction process, allowing each side the security assurances that they require in order to allow reconstruction to advance as quickly as is possible.

Now that the hostilities have passed and the spotlight returns again to the status-quo, the issue of Israeli settlements remains a concern to the international community. International Law regards Israeli settlements in the ‘Arab territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem’, to be illegal, and the EU and its constituent Member States respect this.

In light of this, the EU’s position has been that any agreements between the EU and Israel do not cover territories outside of Israel’s 1967 borders, the so called ‘Green Line’. This position was concretely reasserted in guidelines published by the Commission in July 2013, which restated long-standing EU policy excluding organisations based in Israeli Occupied Territories from access to EU grants and funding. The guidelines will be used in the dispersal of all EU funding from January 2014. These guidelines were issued based on a mandate given by the Council of Ministers in 2012.

The guidelines were intended to clarify the EU’s position in advance of negotiations of agreements with Israel during the forthcoming financial perspective that began in 2014, and the specific provisions of the guidelines have been implemented since 1st January 2014.

Catherine Bearder (Lib Dem)

Like you, I was appalled at the conflict and human suffering in Gaza this summer.  I think all Palestinian people have suffered for too long.

The European Parliament has previously passed a resolution calling on both parties to resume talks on a two-state solution without delay, and restrictions on trade are in place which target unlawful Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.  Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg MP has called for the suspension of arms export licenses to Israel if hostilities start again.  All of this adds pressure for peace.

The European Parliament is going further still and has scheduled a vote in December 2014 to recognise Palestinian statehood.  The idea behind this proposal is to follow in the footsteps of other parliaments and pressure Israel to resume talks to achieve a peaceful solution to crisis in the Middle East.  As you may know, Sweden recently formally recognised Palestine as a state in its own right, and non-binding resolutions to support Palestinian statehood have also recently been past in the British, Irish and Spanish parliaments.

I understand that the EU has attempted to restrict European-Israeli relations and exclude territories occupied by Israel, but has not gone as far as you would like and suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement.  As I have considerable sympathy with the sentiments in your email, I am in the process of submitting the attached question to the European Commission about the EU’s current links with Israel.

I hope this response is helpful and supportive, I am happy to let you know what the Commission says in response to my question.  In the meantime if you feel there is any other way in which I can be of assistance at a European Union level, then please do not hesitate to get back in touch.

Catherine Bearder’s question to the European Commission: “The European Union (EU) has many links with Israel, especially through the EU’s cultural, educational and financial programmes. However, I understand that the EU has attempted to restrict European-Israeli relations and exclude territories occupied by Israel. I believe that the EU does not confer any financial aid on Israeli groups operating outside the ‘Green Line’ that established in the armistice in 1949, and any Israeli group seeking funds from the EU must sign a declaration that it has no direct links with the occupied territories in Gaza and the West Bank. Will the European Commission be maintaining the current position on links with Israel in light of recent events in the Middle East?”

Anneliese Dodds (Labour)

Thank you for your email about the EU-Israel Association Agreement. I absolutely condemn the violence that occurred this summer in Gaza Strip in which at least 1,800 people, the majority of them civilians including many children, have been killed since July 2014 with more than 530,000 more injured or displaced from their homes. However, I do not think that suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement will lead to a positive outcome and would be detrimental to the peace process and act as a further barrier in establishing a viable two state solution. It is essential that the EU continues to work with both Israelis and Palestinians towards a peaceful two state solution, which is why I am opposed to the EU severing ties with Israel by suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

I fully believe in the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and support the work of the EU’s External Action Service to build up the institutions of a future democratic, independent and viable Palestinian State living side by side with Israel and its neighbours. Respect for human rights is one of the founding principles of the European Union and Labour MEPs are strongly committed to ensuring that these principles are upheld in all our external relations and to defending the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. I am in favour of the EU officially recognising the Palestinian state, which I believe would be a step towards lasting peace in the region.

Above all, I want to see an end to the conflict in Israel-Palestine which has destroyed so many lives, on both sides. I am resolutely not a partisan ‘supporter’ of either side within the conflict, but genuinely believe that the recognition of Palestine would aid the prospects of lasting peace.

Keith Taylor MEP (Green)

Keith is a passionate campaigner for Palestinian human rights and works on the European Parliament’s Delegation to the Palestinian Legislative Council (DPLC). He has been working hard to keep the Israel-Palestine conflict and the violent situation in Gaza over the summer at the top of the European agenda.

In September, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on the role of the EU regarding the situation between Israel and Palestine now that a ceasefire is in place. The Resolution urged the EU to participate effectively in the urgent humanitarian aid effort and in the reconstruction of Gaza, and called on the EU to participate fully in the International Donors Conference on 12 October 2014 in Cairo. You can read the full text of the Resolution here:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&reference=P8-TA-2014-0029&language=EN&ring=P8-RC-2014-0117

Prior to the vote on this Resolution, MEPs in the European Parliament debated the potential role of the EU in working towards a two-state solution. Keith gave a speech during this debate which blasted the Parliament’s weak stance on the issue and their failure to formally recognise the disproportionality of the violence. Keith and some of his colleagues in the Green group were able to demand that the EU take immediate steps to negotiate the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, the extending of fishing zones and to open the border crossing.

Keith’s speech is available to view via the following link, from 20:15:00 onwards: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/plenary/video?debate=1410975629570&streamingLanguage=en

Keith also wrote to the EU’s previous High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, condemning the violence in Gaza and the use of densely populated civilian areas as targets. His full letter is available to read on his website: http://www.keithtaylormep.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Situation-in-Israel-Palestine_Catherine-Ashton_16.07.2014.pdf

You may already be aware that MEPs will be debating the recognition of Palestine as a state on Wednesday at 15:00 (14:00 GMT). Keith submitted a motion for a Resolution to this debate calling on EU Members to recognise the State of Palestine to 1967 borders. The Resolution also “calls on the EU to respond to the continued expansion of Israeli settlements by:

  1. stepping up EU public diplomacy,
  2. reassessing cooperation assistance to Israel in line with the “less for less policy”,
  3. strictly excluding the application of EU-Israeli agreements to the occupied Palestinian territories,
  4. strengthening advice to EU citizens and companies on settlements and settlement activities and taking action vis-à-vis EU companies complicit in violations in the settlements,
  5. taking concrete measures towards settlers, including the adoption of a non-contact policy and visa ban,
  6. excluding settlement products from the EU internal market,
  7. revisiting EU-Israeli relations in light of Article 2 of the Association Agreement;

This Green resolution will be voted on at the next Parliamentary session in December, and Keith will be urging all MEPs to support it. Meanwhile, the debate tomorrow can be viewed live on the European Parliament’s website via the following link: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/plenary/en/home.html#banner_session_live

Since receiving your email, Keith has met with his Green colleagues on the Palestine Delegation, as well as the Green group’s political advisors for foreign affairs, to discuss how pressure could be put on the EU to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement, as you requested. Keith and his colleagues are planning a series of seminars in the Parliament addressing serious human rights breaches in Palestine and what steps the EU can take next; the EU-Israel Association Agreement will also be a key part of this strategy.

Thanks again for sharing your comments and taking the time to write to Keith. You can see more of the work Keith has done to protect human rights and build towards peace in the Middle East on his website: http://www.keithtaylormep.org.uk/category/peace-anti-nuke/

Be assured that, throughout his term as an MEP, Keith will continue to call on the EU to take a stronger stance and a more prominent role in securing a securing lasting peace between Palestine and Israel, to review the EU’s trade agreement with Israel in light of their actions and to ensure Israel complies with international humanitarian law.

[Additional clarification:]  Keith is in favour of suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement as he thinks this is one of the most effective ways for the EU to put pressure on Israel to improve its human rights record.

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About Faversham and Whitstable Palestine Solidarity Campaign

We are one of over forty branches of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign across England and Wales, campaigning for Palestinian self determination, national, human and civil rights.

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