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      Op-Ed: EU Pressures Threaten Israel Policy

      Published: Saturday, December 14, 2013 8:27 PM
      The EU actions come at a time when the organization which was expected to right member economies is flagging. If Israel decides to react in kind, Europe will also suffer.


      European nations and countries like South Africa label imports originating in territories beyond the 1967 borders: from “West Bank, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem,” or “Not from Israel-from Occupied Palestine.”

      The EU threatens to outlaw grants, prizes, and financial instruments to entities that benefit settlers. The recipients and the government of Israel have to pledge that no settlements benefit from EU largesse, and occupied territories are not part of sovereign Israel.

      In response, Israel’s Defense Ministry threatens to limit European corporations from doing business in the territories. Business and politics, moral righteousness and diplomacy, entangled in a tenacious web of economic ostracism, upsets the tender balance existing between Israel and the PA on the ground.

      Israel’s failure to comply with the guidelines “excuse some European countries to boycott all Israeli goods,” warned the spokesperson for the new President of the EU. The EU actions add gravitas to the delegitimization of Israel, fueling the flames of boycotts and disinvestment movements. Retail chains in Europe and the U.S. already boycott "settlement" products, and a Dutch water company recently walked away from Israel business over the issue.

      A boycott is economic warfare, not buying products or utilizing services of another country or organization for social or political reasons. The term was coined in 1880, when tenant farmers shunned Irish Captain Charles Boycott who united for evicting them during a particularly bad harvest season.

      Sanctions are international bans on trade and financial services, like banking and gold trading, employing coercive measures to ensure compliance with international law and to change behavior of a country’s leaders.

      In addition to labeling, The EU can impose special tariffs making the products outrageously expensive. Limiting grants only to institutions with no affiliations to the "occupied territories" might preclude professors teaching at Tel Aviv University, but living or conducting research east of the 1967 borders.

      EU officials claim this was a long time coming. It is “a service to the consumer,” eliminating misinformation and misleading labels.  Second, it is time to nudge Israel into compliance with EU policy that the 1967 borders are the only ones the EU recognizes, and that resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is of the highest priority “Without this, there will be little chance of dealing with other problems in the Middle East.” (2003 European Security Strategy).

      Boycotts and sanctions abound. At the turn of the twentieth century, Polish nationalists boycotted German goods and Jewish businesses over economic disputes with Russia. Today, China boycotts Japanese products in their dispute over ownership of certain islands. America’s boycott and sanctions against Cuba are now in place more than half a century.

      Academic studies of sanctions generally agree with Professor Taehee Whang that “sanctions mostly fail to extract political concessions from target states.” Their symbolic dimension is for “domestic political purposes…and elevate the popularity of the incumbent leaders".

      The EU actions come at a time when the organization which was supposed to right member economies is flagging. Financial and sex scandals plague the leadership. EU foreign policy appears toothless. Leaning on Israel makes the EU feel less impotent, but the EU is Israel's largest trading partner.

      Imports from EU countries totaled $22.4 billion in 2012, and exports to them exceed $14.2 billion a year. $300 million a year of largely agricultural goods are exported from settlements to European countries. If Israel chooses to retaliate, cutbacks on EU imports will exacerbate  struggles to their economies.

      Mitigating EU actions are a host of circumstances. Israel is a small country with a long reach. It boasts a stable, popularly supported government, a healthy financial system, and a heavy reliance on high demand military hardware and cutting-edge bio-med and hi-tech sales.

      Consumers are fickle and might surprise their leaders by purposely buying products from the "West Bank", Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem once informed about the availability of these products. It may be their way of promoting peace and cooperation by  enhancing economic prosperity in the region, or out of religious commitment to the Jews.

      The bottom line is that sanctions rarely achieve their political and social designs, especially in the age of globalization. After all,the damage Europeans have wrought upon the Jews by not eating our apples is risible. 

      So let the EU have their fantasies. Fantasies are, according to Dr. Seuss, “a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.”