Economics and Israeli Apartheid: E.U.-Israel Economic Association Agreement


    Interview with John Hilary of War on Want,
    conducted by Stefan Christoff for Fighting FTAs.


    Photo: Graffiti on Israel’s apartheid wall in Bethlehem.

An economic association agreement between the European Union and Israel lends international political legitimacy to the Israeli government, while providing a critical export market for Israeli goods and products, an essential element to Israel’s international trade policy.

Growing debate is occurring within Europe concerning the E.U.-Israel agreement in the face of Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian land and systemic abuses of Palestinian human rights as documented by international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International. A critical provision within the economic agreement stipulates that both the E.U. and Israel respect human rights, a provision that has clearly been ignored in the continuation of the agreement, despite wide-spread abuses of Palestinian human rights by Israel.

In the U.K. a campaign against the E.U.-Israel agreement is currently taking place. John Hilary is a campaigner for the U.K.-based organization War on Want, who in this interview address the E.U.-Israel association agreement and opposition to its continuation. Also this interview addresses the current push towards bilateral trade accords by the E.U., which translates to dozens of agreements being negotiated internationally; bilateral ‘free-trade’ accords defined by an economic development model pushed by neo-liberal institutions such as the World Bank and IMF.

Stefan Christoff: To start can you outline the E.U.-Israel association agreement and the agreement’s importance to Israel’s economic and political stability?

John Hilary: E.U.-Israel association agreement is an agreement that gives preferences to Israeli exports, so that Israeli industrial exports into the E.U. come in duty free, while Israeli agricultural imports come into Europe facing much lower tariffs than they would face going into other countries.

For us this is a particular problem because within the terms of the E.U.-Israel association agreement, article II says very clearly that the whole agreement is conditional on the respect of human rights by both Israel and the European Union. Clearly in the case of Israel, as the U.N. has documented, there is a well documented abuse of human rights, and yet the European Union continues to reward Israel with this preferential treatment.

Obviously, the European Union is made-up of twenty-seven states now, each of which have their own bilateral relations with individual countries and the European Union has particular competence as we call it, over certain aspects of the external relations of it’s members with other states. The trade aspect is a particularly strong one, where the European Union has a centralized competence, as the individual member-states don’t really have that direct trade relationship.

Obviously on the military side, the individual countries will still retain their own relationship with countries like Israel and others. For the European Union, these association agreements are really at the top of its agenda, as the E.U. has a neighborhood policy towards other countries in the Mediterranean, including Israel. For the E.U. such trade policy is at the highest levels of its current agenda, so it’s incredibly important for the E.U. to be engaged in this type of association with Israel.

Israel has managed to increase imports into European Union markets by an enormous over the last few years, into the U.K. now where two-thirds of all of Israel’s fruits and vegetables are sold an extremely important market for Israel. Also at the high-tech where Israeli exports, in military or other high-tech sectors, Israel is gaining preferential access into European markets.

For Israel this situation is absolutely crucial on the economic level but also on the symbolic level, as Israel is being welcomed in this setting as a respectable member of the international family, being seen as an important trade partner without any reference to Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine, or Israel’s abuse of Palestinian human rights.

In this light it’s important to see the impacts of these economic association agreements, between Israel and the E.U., as not just on the economic side but on the symbolic side as part of an effort to legitimize the Israeli government.

Stefan Christoff: Can you speak tangibly about some of the efforts that your organization has been involved in, to try to publicly critique or oppose the E.U.-Israel association agreement?

John Hilary: Definitely; War on Want has been involved at the parliamentary level within the Britain for example there is a committee of parliamentarians, which is called the international development committee. This parliamentary committee has been looking at the impact of policies from outside Palestine on the lives of people within Palestine and particularly the incredible poverty that we have seen grow in Gaza and the West Bank.

As a result of our testimony, as War on Want, before this international development committee in Britain, this committee of parliamentarians called on Tony Blair, both then within the role as Prime Minister and now as the representative of the Quartet in Palestine, to examine the entire issue of preferences granted to Israel through the E.U. Israel economic association agreement. It was a good start for us to see a large number of British parliamentarians agreeing with us that it’s wrong to be rewarding Israel for abuses against the Palestinians, through these trade preferences.

Also we have seen a similar call taken-up at the European parliament where European parliamentarians have on more than one occasion voted to suspend the E.U. Israel association agreement. Problem is that within the European Union you need to get the full agreement of all the different twenty-seven member states and there will always be one or two who refuse to come along with this line, which is a severe problem for us in relation to campaigning.

Stefan Christoff: Can you explain your perspective on the relationship between economic and military ties linking E.U. member states and Israel? As it’s critical to understand how trade policy is related to foreign policy in the context of the ‘war on terror’…

John Hilary: Certainly, it’s clear in this case that economics and military policies are two arms of the same agenda. On the one hand you have the military policy that often goes through N.A.T.O., rather than through the E.U., while on the other hand you have the economic policies that form the non-military wing of the same imperialist agenda.

You can see this in a country like Iraq where clearly a country like the U.K. and the U.S. maintain their occupation with other member states of the European Union helping out as well. At the same time the E.U. is negotiating an agreement with Iraq that is going to lead to open markets and better relations between the E.U. and Iraq on the economic level, which for the E.U. is defined explicitly by the interests of its business community.

Recently I returned from a three-day conference in Lisbon looking at this exact issue, as the European Union is now pushing forward a new generation of bilateral trade accords and agreements with developing countries, which are explicitly in the interests of European corporations, not in the development interests of other counties. This includes access to particular things like access to resources, the strategic natural resources within these countries; it could be oil, gas or minerals.

Now the European Union is basically saying, we want to recreate the colonial relationship in which European business gets access to these resources, rather than leaving them to the development needs of the countries in question.

Stefan Christoff: In terms of the new generation of bilateral trade accords that the E.U. is currently negotiating, we have focused in this interview specifically on the economic association between the E.U. and Israel; however within this context can you address the tapestry of negotiations taking place across the world, in the Caribbean, Asia, Southern African states…

John Hilary: A tapestry of agreements is a very good way to describing the current situation, as basically the European Union has divided-up the world map, deciding to have bilateral agreements with as many different trading partners from the developing world it can. It’s important think of the current push towards bilateral agreements within the current context of stalled negotiations at the World Trade Organization, where multilateral negotiations have failed to make progress.

Today, the European Union has suddenly sifted emphasis towards bilateral agreements, putting out a global Europe doctrine, which defines a new strategy for bilateral agreements, pushing further than WTO negotiations ever would. These negotiations or bilateral agreements are being negotiated more aggressively by the E.U., with an explicitly pro-corporate agenda, which will deliver for European business irrespective of potentially negative impacts on developing countries.

Listen to the audio interview on-line at Fighting FTAs, this interview was produced and conducted by journalist Stefan Christoff, who is a member of Tadamon! Montreal.

1 Comment »

I have torns of reasons to surpport the on going israel action aganist pelestines or their neighbouring arabs. the world must & should understand the fundemental issue that makes jews to be the way the are. e.g , that land it belongs to israelis historically and biblically. so if they need peace (arabs & pelis) they are surppose to complain to their dead brother king nebukadnezar of bablon, im not a jew but a feel bad to see or hear that there are some europeans who do co operate with arabs

Comment by JOB OWITI — May 5th, 2008 @ 11:20 AM

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