European Union flag
European Union flagiStock

Following the numerous statements from the European External Action Service led by High Representative and Vice President Josep Borrell, condemning Israel for allegdly violating international law, two MEPs have spoken out in plenary in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

In an extraordinary and perhaps unprecedented event, both MEPs spoke in the same session to challenge the European Union’s use of international law to condemn Israel for what it called “illegal settlements” while not making such legal claims in any other cases in the world – including the EU’s own occupied territories.

At a time when many believe the legality of Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria is an issue on which European views are unchangeable, this signals dissatisfaction with the traditional Brussels position.

MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen, Vice-Chair of the EU-Israel Relations in European Parliament introduced the subject by saying that the way the High Representative talks about Israeli settlement activity is incorrect.

"According to international law, this is a term that can only be used if the occupied territory belongs to another recognized state. In case of Crimea, its legal status is clear; it belongs to Ukraine. But who did the West Bank belong to before 1967? Not to Jordan, not to the Ottoman Empire, not to Britain. It is peculiar that in case of Northern Cyprus where its legal status is crystal clear, the high Representative does not speak of illegal settlement activity."

MEP Michiel Hoogeveen asked: “Why hasn’t the EU ever called any other people’s residential activities in other occupied territories an international crime? We are aware that there are many territories the EU deems occupied around the world, even in Europe. People move in and out of them all the time. However, the EU only talks about illegal settlers in relation to Israeli Jews.”

He then called on the Commission to either use international law consistently or refrain from using legal language entirely.

Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, head of Kohelet Policy Forum’s international law department, remarked: “It is not just Israelis who are appalled by the EU’s creation of supposedly “international” law rules that only apply to one country. EU parliamentarians are beginning to understand the term ‘illegal settlements’ has no general applicability; it is merely a diplomatic euphemism for “Jews living where we don’t want them to.”

Jenny Aharon, the Kohelet Policy Forum’s Brussel’s based advisor on the European Union issues commented: “It is the first time MEPs have confronted the European External Action Service about this issue. International law should be applied consistently and uniformly, including when it concerns Israel. The MEPs concerned understand the implications of such misuse of the law and I’m thankful they have stood up to expose it.”