09 Jan Is the EU Adopting a Double-Standards Approach toward Israel and the Palestinian Territories? (Part 1)
[Lorenzo Kamel, Ph.D., is a Research Fellow at Bologna University’s History Department and a Visiting Fellow (2013/2014) at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies.]
On the anniversary of the International Day of Human Rights (December 10th) the European Parliament approved a four-year agreement with Morocco to allow European boats to fish in territorial waters off Western Sahara. The EU does not recognize Western Sahara as part of Morocco. Furthermore, the occupation of Western Sahara represents a violation of the United Nations Charter prohibition of aggression and forced annexation.
Acting as a realist rather than normative power, the EU adopted an approach which contradicts some of its own policies applied in other contexts. This is particularly evident once that the fisheries agreement is analyzed in the frame of the recent (July 2013) EU guidelines barring loans (which constitute less than 10 percent of funds the EU allocates in Israel) to Israeli entities established, or that operate, in the territories captured in June 1967 (the “EU Guidelines”). The EU-Morocco deal applies not just to the area under internationally recognized Moroccan sovereignty, but to all areas under its jurisdiction, including the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. The EU Guidelines, on the other hand, apply to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights: all areas under Israeli occupation.
This inconsistent approach plays in the hands of some of the most active supporters of the occupation of the Palestinian Territories and represents a major blow for the EU’s international credibility. Eugene Kontorovich pointed out for example that the positions adopted by the EU in its negotiations with Israel over grants and product labeling are inconsistent with those it has taken at the same time in its dealings with Morocco and the ones applied in contexts such as Northern Cyrus, Tibet, or Abkazia/Ossetia. According to Kontorovich, the EU approach regarding Western Sahara “is consistent with all prior international law […] the EU is right about Western Sahara – which means it is wrong about Israel.” [italics added]
This post and its follow-up, which will be posted later today, argue that the EU is right about Israel and wrong about Western Sahara. Together, they discuss the EU approach to Israel-Palestine in a comparative way by first examining EU policy in Northern Cyprus and Western Sahara – two crucial cases often raised by critiques of EU policy towards Israel to highlight EU double-standards – before turning to the Israeli-Palestinian case itself in the second post.
The case of Northern Cyprus
It is often claimed that Brussels “knowingly and purposefully provides substantial direct financial assistance to settlements in occupied territory – in Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus”, and that in Northern Cyprus “it is EU policy to provide grants specifically for settlers of such territory”. The reality is indeed more complex.
As in the case of the Israeli entities established in the Palestinian territories under Israel’s national law, the EU does not provide support to Turkish entities established in Northern Cyprus under Turkey’s national law. As happens also in relation to Israeli natural persons based in or carrying out activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, the EU has taken appropriate steps to evaluate the most suitable implementation methods for “individual projects” in Northern Cyprus, where perhaps half of the estimated 300,000 residents were either born in Turkey or are children of settlers. Quoting the EU report on the issue, as it cannot enter into financing agreements with the Turkish Cypriot authorities, “because they are not officially recognised by the international community, the [EU] Commission has primarily implemented the assistance by entering into contracts directly and acting as the sole contracting authority.”
These policies are carried out by the EU with the official purpose “to facilitate the reunification of Cyprus” and with the aim of “improving the contacts between the two communities”. They are fully consistent with international law, including with Article 43 of the Hague Regulations, according to which building infrastructure is to a certain extent part of the occupier’s obligations, as long as the infrastructure is built for the benefit of the local population.
The case of Western Sahara
Since decades Western Sahara and the Palestinian territories are witnessing two struggles for self-determination. Both areas register human rights violations and both are recognized by the United Nations as being illegitimately under the rule of a foreign power. The two contexts, however, have few other points in common. Still today Western Sahara represents one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world. Contrary to Palestine and its local majority, under Spanish colonial rule Western Sahara was inhabited mainly if not only by nomadic tribes which paid allegiance to different powers. When territorial boundaries have been imposed by the colonial powers, the nomadic tribes that roamed sub-Saharan region were largely ignored. Several Sahrawi tribes, characterized by an internal governance structure, paid allegiance to the central authority of the monarchy in Morocco.
This aspect has been confirmed by 1975’s International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) advisory opinion, which, beside upholding the right of the country’s inhabitants to self-determination, pointed out that there were “legal ties of allegiance between the Sultan of Morocco and some of the tribes living in the territory of Western Sahara”. Sahrawis have the full right to self-determinate their future and Morocco should be considered accountable for its violations of human rights. Nonetheless, it is still today a matter of harsh debates to which extent Polisario – the Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement, supported since 1975 by the Algerian government, committed to put an end to the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara – should be considered the sole or even the main legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people.
Despite the evident differences between the two contexts, the problem remains: the EU (and the UN) recognizes Western Sahara as an occupied territory. Either Brussels changes its standpoint on the issue, or it has to be consistent with its own policies and procedures. What is at stake is the political and moral credibility of the EU. This is even more the case considering that in signing the recent fisheries agreement the aspirations of the local indigenous Sahrawi population as well as the concerns expressed by several international organizations have been largely ignored. Greenpeace adviser Justine Maillot noted for example that the “increasing the EU catch in the waters of Morocco and Western Sahara will lead to overfishing and conflict with the needs and interests of local people.”