Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the European Union yesterday (14 January) of holding his country to a double standard, and reserved special criticism for Sweden, saying its call to investigate Israel was outrageous, immoral and stupid.
“There is a natural tendency in the EU establishment to single out Israel and treat it in ways that other countries are not being dealt with, and especially other democracies,” he told a gathering of foreign journalists.
Netanyahu said ties needed to be “reset” – an acknowledgment that things were bad – but he did not propose steps to improve them.
Israel has been at odds with the EU over its decision to require labelling of exports from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In November, Israel suspended contact with EU bodies involved in peace efforts with Palestinians, though Netanyahu said bilateral ties with nearly all EU countries were strong.
Relations with Sweden, however, have deteriorated since it recognised Palestinian statehood last year, and Netanyahu lambasted a call by the Swedish foreign minister to investigate whether Israeli forces were guilty of extrajudicial killings of Palestinian attackers.
“It’s outrageous, it’s immoral and it’s stupid,” Netanyahu said. “People are defending themselves against assailants wielding knives who are about to stab them to death and they shoot the people – and that’s extrajudicial killings?”
Rights groups have accused Israel of using excessive force to quell a surge in attacks, which has raised fears of wider confrontation, a decade after the last Palestinian uprising subsided.
Israeli soldiers yesterday shot dead a Palestinian who tried to stab one of them near the West Bank city of Hebron and, in a separate incident near the town of Nablus, killed a man after he slashed and wounded an army officer, the army said.
That brought the number of Palestinians killed since 1 October to at least 145. Israel says 93 of these were assailants, while most of the others died in clashes with Israeli security forces.
In the same period, Palestinian stabbings, car-rammings and gun attacks have killed 24 Israelis and a US citizen.
The wave of attacks has been partly fueled by Palestinian frustration over the collapse of peace talks, the growth of Jewish settlements on land they seek for a future state, and Islamist calls for the destruction of Israel.
Also stoking the violence are allegations of Muslim agitation against stepped-up Jewish visits to a contested Jerusalem shrine.
Earlier, Israel’s right-wing Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said pre-emptive raids and arrests had prevented the violence from escalating into an armed Palestinian revolt, and he predicted that the grassroots violence would stop.
“We are managing to foil plans by the organisations, the terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to carry out attacks. If it were up to them, there would be suicide bombings and gun attacks here every day,” Yaalon told Israel Radio.
“The fact that we are succeeding lends salience to the attempted stabbing or car-ramming attacks. We will also prevail over this phenomenon, I say, but this is a process that takes time. Statistically, we see a waning of this.”
On 4 November 2015, the European Union decided to impose a label on goods originating from the Israeli-occupied territories.
The EU does not recognise Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, lands it captured in the 1967 Middle East war, and says the labelling policy aims to distinguish between goods made inside the internationally accepted borders of Israel and those made outside.
Israel's Economy Ministry estimates the impact will be about $50 million a year, affecting fresh produce such as grapes and dates, wine, poultry, honey, olive oil and cosmetics.
That is around a fifth of the $200-$300 million worth of goods produced in settlements each year, but a drop in the ocean next to the $30 billion of goods and services Israel exports to the EU annually, a third of all its exports.
Also potentially affected are the more than 20,000 Palestinians who work in settlements, earning salaries far higher than those working on Palestinian-run farms.
Israeli ministers have cast the EU's plans as akin to a boycott of Israel, regarding it as little different to the boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement that Palestinians — who seek a state on occupied land including the West Bank and East Jerusalem — have advocated in recent years.
They have also accused the EU of double standards, saying EU labelling is not enforced in other places of occupation, such as northern Cyprus, Western Sahara, Kashmir or Tibet.