Israel Pulse

Why Netanyahu loses no sleep over European uproar

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Article Summary
Though Israeli leftists may welcome eight European countries' demand that Israel repay them for destroyed and confiscated aid for Palestinians, they may be playing right into the prime minister's hands.

Israeli leftists and activists shed no tears when they heard that eight European states are demanding that Israel pay them for destroying facilities they had donated to Palestinians in the West Bank. The member states of the West Bank Protection Consortium — Belgium, France, Spain, Sweden, Luxembourg, Italy, Ireland and Denmark — are demanding 30,000 euros for solar panels and caravans used as classrooms. In a letter of reprimand to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, the group wrote that the destruction and/or seizure of humanitarian aid violates Israel’s commitments under international law and causes suffering to Palestinian residents. Israel has full control of Area C, but is shirking its basic responsibility toward tens of thousands of Palestinians hemmed in by Israeli settlement outposts in the Hebron Hills region and the Israeli army’s training areas in the Jordan Valley.

Israel openly does all it can to force the Palestinians out of the region, preventing them from developing infrastructure and basic services. Europeans have stepped into this vacuum, taking on tasks that the Israeli rulers should be carrying out. The Europeans and their leftist Israeli allies are a thorn in the side of the Israeli government, and Area C has turned into a battleground. The victims of the fighting are tens of thousands of Palestinian residents and any hope of a diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One such battle erupted in January 2012. A leaked internal EU report accused Israel of nothing short of a “forced transfer” of Area C’s Palestinian population by pushing ahead with construction of Jewish homes in an area designated E1 that lies between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement town of Maale Adumim. Israel fired back several days later, ordering a halt to the installation of German-funded solar panels and wind turbines by an Israeli-Palestinian organization called Comet-ME. The facilities had brought light to 1,500 homes in 16 destitute communities in the hills south of Hebron. The German government, which donated 400,000 euros for the project, was incensed and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle demanded that Israel rescind the work stoppage orders.

Six months ago, Israeli authorities seized solar panels donated by the Dutch government to residents of the Palestinian village of Jubbet al-Dhib. On Oct. 20, Haaretz reported that following Dutch pressure, Netanyahu ordered the panels re-installed. Europe can pat itself on the back for this small victory, but Netanyahu is the big winner. All he did was sacrifice a pawn for the sake of the far right's vision of a Greater Israel and to protect his own rule.

The next move on the Israeli-European chess board is a proposal to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the issue of European funding of left-wing organizations. The states being targeted by the inquiry are those funding projects for the Palestinians in Area C and for the activities of human rights organizations such as Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din and B’Tselem.

Speaking to heads of the ruling coalition partners about his proposal to push forward with an inquiry, Netanyahu brought up the example of US congressional investigations such as the one probing Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The House Un-American Activities Committee run in the early 1950s by Senator Joseph McCarthy would have been a more apt example. The Knesset’s legal counsel. Eyal Yinon, objected to such a move six and a half years ago. He warned, “The basic tenets of legal systems in democracies stipulate that civil society organizations are entitled to operate with great freedom and minimal intervention by state authorities.” He noted that the Supreme Court had struck down initiatives that create a public climate threatening to freedom of thought and protest.

Netanyahu doesn’t care about any of this. He simply wants to provoke the Europeans into remaining players in administering the occupation. In fact, the European condemnation of government persecution of left-wing organizations is a handy weapon for Netanyahu to turn the Israeli public against them. After all, for most Israelis, B’Tselem is an abomination.

Netanyahu revels in these clashes, and there’s no shortage of European leaders with whom to tangle. Everyone plays a role in managing the conflict. Israel demolishes and confiscates, the Europeans reprimand, the Palestinian Authority protests, the peace organizations condemn and the settlers rejoice and persecute their Palestinian shepherd neighbors. The European conscience is assuaged, a resolution of the conflict fades and the occupation remains. The Israeli left hopes that the bill presented by the eight European governments to Israel for its violations will waken the Israeli public from its slumber. After all, Israeli taxpayers will have to foot the bill.

There are no grounds for such hopes. For years, the state has been taking hundreds of millions of shekels out of their pockets, handing them over to the Israeli farmers and manufacturers operating in the occupied territories. The money is said to be compensation for settlers' losses due to the EU’s refusal to play along with the trampling of the Green Line and of the two-state solution by granting them the same reduced tariffs enjoyed by Israeli companies operating within Israel’s sovereign borders.

The Europeans learned the hard way that if they walk away from the administration and move on to sanctions such as the ones that resulted in the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Netanyahu will not hesitate to invoke the Holocaust and silence them with guilt. The fear of this discourse stops them from taking real actions. If Europe does not learn to cope with its guilty feelings over its history with the Jewish people, it can do nothing for the Palestinian people and lovers of peace.

Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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