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EU-Israeli summit: International human rights groups strongly condemn upcoming meeting

With the EU suffering an energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, Israel is looking to use the summit to bolster its interests
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen forged a close energy relationship when they met in Israel in June (Reuters)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen forged a close energy relationship when they met in Israel in June (Reuters)

International human rights groups have condemned the upcoming EU-Israel summit, saying that it would only legitimise the ongoing "apartheid" against Palestinians

In a statement, Amnesty International warned that "Israel is committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians" and that "any cooperation must focus on dismantling Israel's cruel system of oppression and domination".

The EU is looking to reboot its relationship with Israel at Monday's summit, the first between the two sides since 2012, largely due to its need to diversify its energy resources following the Russia-Ukraine war

'At a time we are rightly helping Ukrainians defend their country from annexation and occupation, we should be strongly condemning Israel's military aggression in the West Bank and elsewhere'

Grace O'Sullivan, Green Party MEP

The summit, known as the EU-Israel Association Council, was cancelled by Israel in 2013 after the EU issued a bombshell directive that all future agreements with Israel would exclude Israel colonies in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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Israeli entities looking to obtain EU funding would have to actively demonstrate that they have no direct or indirect links with the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.

While official EU policy on this has not changed, Israel has decided to go ahead with the summit. However, human rights bodies are concerned that Brussels could be buckling.

"The Israeli authorities are subjecting Palestinians to land seizures, unlawful killings, forcible transfers and severe movement restrictions while denying their humanity, equal nationality and status," Amnesty International said, regarding the upcoming meeting.  

"The EU cannot claim shared human rights commitments with a state perpetrating apartheid and which has in recent months shuttered the offices of renowned Palestinian civil society organisations," Amnesty added. 

Earlier this year, Israeli forces raided and closed the offices of seven Palestinian NGOs: Al-Haq; Addameer; the Bisan Centre for Research & Development; Defence for Children International-Palestine; the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees; and the Union of Health Workers Committees.

'Crimes against humanity'

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also condemned the upcoming meeting in a statement. 

"European officials should know they'll be shaking hands with representatives of a government committing crimes against humanity, and that has outlawed prominent civil society groups challenging these abuses," said HRW in a statement.

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The meeting is also unlikely to give EU leaders an opportunity to express their concerns to Israeli leaders, said the Irish Green Party member of the Europe parliament, Grace O'Sullivan, speaking to Middle East Eye.

"I'm told PM Lapid will not even attend in person," said O'Sullivan, adding that "it is disappointing that the EU set up this meeting to take place on the week of Yom Kippur as it will limit our engagement with Israel's leadership."

She added that she would be watching closely what Josep Borrell, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, said after his meeting with his Israeli counterparts and whether human rights and the occupied settlements were mentioned.

"The treatment of Palestinians and real steps towards a Palestinian state should be the focus of these meetings," said O'Sullivan.

"I would also like to see progress made on the killing of [Palestinian-American journalist] Shireen Abu Akleh and the arrest of over 25 Palestinian journalists by Israel this year alone. Freedom of the press is under serious threat in Israel and the Occupied Territories." 

Different agenda

However, the current mood music in Brussels and Tel Aviv suggests a different agenda. 

A visit to Israel in June by the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, when she sought to strengthen energy cooperation, didn't go unnoticed in Tel Aviv regarding the opportunities it could bring to the country. 

In the wake of Von der Leyen's visit, Israel's former ambassador to the European Union, Oded Eran, said that Europe's energy predicament offers an opportunity for Tel Aviv to deepen relations with Brussels.

In August, Israel recorded a 50 percent increase in royalties from gas exports in 2022, buoyed by record-high global prices, as Europe experienced a looming energy crunch in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

While limited, Israel's ability to meet European demand is not insignificant. For example, the EU imported around 155bn cubic metres (BCM) from Russia in 2021, while Israel may have around 10 BCM annually to add to Europe's demand.

Earlier this year, Egypt imported a record amount of gas from Israel as it sought to establish itself as an international energy hub and keep its liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports at near record levels. 

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As a sign of Europe's growing demand for LNG, in 2021, almost 80 percent of LNG exports headed to Asia, whereas now 65 percent goes to Europe, as the region seeks to wean itself off Russian gas. 

The country's gas production also surged more than 20 percent in the first half of the year, with the Israeli government planning to ramp up exports even more in a bid to meet growing demand from Europe. 

"At a time when we are rightly helping Ukrainians to defend their country from annexation and occupation, we should be strongly condemning Israel's military aggression in the West Bank and elsewhere," said O'Sullivan.

In a 2021 parliamentary vote, Ireland officially condemned the de-facto annexation of Palestinian land.

"It is time the EU did the same," said O'Sullivan. 

"If progress is not made in this regard, then it will be more difficult for the EU to portray itself as a champion of human rights and freedom of the press, especially in the Middle East," she said.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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