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The Daily Star - July 25, 2013

by Rami G. Khouri

The most significant development on the Arab-Israeli scene last week was not U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement of a vague agreement by Palestinian and Israeli leaders to resume negotiations for a peace agreement. It was the European Union’s decision to formally have its 28 member states differentiate between Israel and the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, and to refrain from any official dealings with Israeli institutions in these occupied areas. The EU directive issued by foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton prohibits funding, investing in, or awarding grants and prizes to any organizations that are active in settlements in the occupied territories. Ashton also said that any new agreements with Israel should include a provision excluding Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which are not part of Israel. The implications of the decision can only contribute constructively to the quest for a comprehensive negotiated resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, for several reasons.

First, any negotiated peace accord must reflect the only universally accepted international guidelines and enablers of a peace deal that enshrine the legitimate rights of all parties, which are U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Those resolutions have been universally interpreted – other than among right-wing Zionist militants – as requiring Israel to return to the Arabs the lands it occupied in 1967, in return for a full peace agreement, the end of the conflict, secure and recognized borders, formal Arab acceptance of Israel, and normal state-to-state relations.

They also affirm the provisions of the Geneva Conventions and other prevailing international norms that deem illegal the movement of civilian settlers into militarily occupied lands. The EU member states are saying that these global norms apply unambiguously in the occupied Arab lands, and they collectively want to add teeth to their rhetoric about the unacceptability of long-term Israeli occupation and colonization of these lands.

Second, formalizing in political terms the distinction between Israel within its pre-1967 borders and Israeli-colonized and annexed Arab lands makes clear to the world exactly what the EU will support or reject in terms of legitimate claims and rights by both sides. This is significant because in the absence of clear and firm positions by parties like the EU or the United States, Israeli zealots can run wild with their colonization dreams without fear of pushback by major global powers.

The Palestinians also should read the EU position as hard support for a secure, legitimate Israel inside its pre-1967 borders. This is how big powers can “pressure” both sides to move toward a negotiated peace, without being accused of caving in to, or selling out, either side.

Third, the EU move indicates to all concerned that the legal, ethical, economic and political issues related to the quest for Arab-Israeli peace are not the eternal monopoly of the chronically failed American approach to mediation. The EU move suggests how other actors can play a substantive role in complementing and broadening American diplomatic initiatives, while also helping shape the contours of a permanent peace that also honors international rule of law. Significantly, Washington did seem to criticize the European move, which will drive Zionist hysteria to new highs.

Fourth, the clear political affirmation of a legitimate Israel within the pre-1967 lines and the criminal, colonizing Israel in the occupied territories will quickly translate into commercial, cultural and other moves by those who will want to be seen as siding with the international rule of law. Ashton has already asked EU member states to draft comprehensive guidelines to label commercial products that are manufactured in Israeli settlements as such.

Several European states have already put into force regulations requiring labels to identify products from the occupied territories, so that consumers can decide whether or not they want to be complicit in commercial deals with colonizers and criminals. European legislation will soon require mandatory labeling of all agricultural and nonfood products. Some British and Dutch supermarket chains have already stopped buying products that originate in Israeli settlements.

This trend will now accelerate, and probably will include wider boycotts of, divestments from and sanctions against other sectors in the occupied territories, such as cultural and academic institutions or the technology sector by targeting the sale of technological goods.

Fifth, such moves frighten Israel perhaps more than any other actions that could be taken by Arab or international parties, because they make the loudest and clearest possible statement equating Western political reactions to Israeli behavior with similar global punitive reactions decades ago to South Africa’s apartheid system. That criminal apartheid regime was finally changed into a pluralistic South African democracy for all.

Something similar probably must occur in Israel and Palestine in order to reach a peaceful end to the conflict, allowing all the people there to live in peace and equal dignity. The EU move may hasten that day. How refreshing it is to see a coalition of countries with considerable global power striking a blow for the rule of law and human decency.

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