Why the EU should reject Israeli trade pact

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A few might argue that signing the the Conformity Assessment and Acceptance Agreement with Israel will bring economic benefits to the EU. In fact, the EU has much more to gain from rejecting it, argue Kataryzna Lemanska and Stuart Reigeluth.

Kataryzna Lemanska works at the European Coordination of Committees for Palestine (ECCP). Stuart Reigeluth works at the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR).

"The Committees on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and International Trade (INTA) at the European Parliament this week will decide on the fate of the controversial proposed Agreement between Europe and Israel on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA).

Those in favour of this agreement argue correctly that it will bring economic benefits to Europe as it would lift barriers to trade and lower the prices of specific industrial products entering the European market.

The problem, however, lies not within the need to foster trade with our neighbours, particularly in these times of dire economic straits, but rather in the inaccurate assessment of potential gains and losses for the EU relative to the Israeli ACAA. In fact, the EU has much more to gain from rejecting it.

Rejecting this ACAA means holding Israel accountable for rectifying its incipient democratic deficit towards its Palestinian citizens while also placing much-needed conditionality on Israel to end, once and for all, its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and its siege of Gaza before further economic preferences and privileges are granted without any apparent results.

Engaging in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only a moral imperative for Europe. Currently, hundreds of millions of European tax-payer money are spent by the EU for buttressing the Palestinian Authority, for improving the disastrous humanitarian situation in Gaza and sustaining the Palestinian refugees in UNRWA camps. Not to mention that dozens of EU-sponsored projects were destroyed by Israel without Israel being held accountable.

Beyond the fact that this has created chronic dependence rather than development and that these expenses are legally meant to be paid by Israel, if the Israeli occupation were brought to an end and allowed for the emergence of a self-sustaining Palestinian State, the EU would save much more than Israeli ACAA could ever generate.

Moreover, adopting this ACAA would demonstrate the EU’s disregard for the provisions contained in its own legal framework, such as the obligation to ensure consistency between trade policies, human rights and foreign policy positions. It would reinforce perceived EU leniency towards repeated violations of human rights’ articles of its bilateral agreements.

How can the EU expect other partners to comply with basic principles and values it encourages if the EU itself does not stand by them? Coherence is paramount to Europe’s regional response to democratic changes under way across West Asia and North Africa.

At the regional level, in times of tremendous change across the Arab world, rejecting the Israeli ACAA would contribute to the restoration of the eroded credibility and standing of the EU, which has too often chosen short-term political and economical interests over human rights. Now, refusing to endorse this ACAA incorporates these dimensions of EU foreign policy by advancing basic rights and encouraging long-term trade ties.

Moreover, this change, and the way the EU positions itself, will benefit the European Union and its member states much more than enhancing trade in industrial products with Israel alone. To support and encourage the positive political and social changes under way in the southern Mediterranean region today, upgrading bilateral instruments with Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine to the level of that which currently exists with Israel would bring much greater economic returns to Europe as well as to these neighbouring Arab countries.

At the institutional level, rejecting the Israeli ACAA provides the members of the European Parliament with the ability to play a decisive and mature role in helping to advance a more balanced EU foreign policy in the Mediterranean, which remains pivotal to external relations within the broader European Neighbourhood Policy. Crisis management and conflict resolution is also a long-term economic interest for the EU, as stability is beneficial for regional trade with secure access to energy resources.

This is also an opportunity for the members of the European Parliament to uphold EU Community law and EU's international obligations as the EU does not agree with the Israeli definition of its "territory" – which for Israel includes the occupied Palestinian territories. Since the European Commission has failed to provide sufficient legal guarantees regarding the territorial application of the Israeli ACAA, it should be rejected.

Hard love from Europe now can provide the necessary leverage to compel Israel to change its policy towards the Palestinians and to finally normalise its relations with the Arab world. Rejecting the ACAA with Israel may seem symbolic at this point, but it would be highly meaningful as it can help move in a more constructive direction."

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