Israeli ties to EU worsen
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday ordered all official contacts between Israeli and European Union institutions relative to the peace process to be “placed on hold” pending Jerusalem’s re-assessment of the EU’s role in the quest for peace. The measure comes after the EU implemented a policy of labeling goods and produce emanating from areas Israel acquired in the 1967 Middle East war and which are claimed by the Palestinians for statehood.
The Media Line’s Felice Friedson recently interviewed Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the EU envoy to the Jewish state.
The European Union Ambassador also spoke about the devolving security situation in Europe .
TML: Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen, there is tremendous unrest in Europe. The attacks in Paris…it’s only the beginning for you. What can be done?
Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen: We are going through some real trying times in Europe. The despicable attacks that were carried out in Paris is, of course, an attack on all of us in Europe. It’s an attack on our common values, our principles and our way of life and we will have to confront it together. The heads of state in the government are already backing as of February an anti-terror package…to try and stay the tide of terror of in Europe and beyond. I think that will be further accelerated after what we experienced [in Paris].
I think it’s very important not to accept in any way or see this terrorist attack as a result of frivolous immigration policies in Europe. We have to keep in mind that those people, who are fleeing the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts, are exactly fleeing from the threat of ISIS and other terror groups and that’s the reason they are coming to Europe.
TML: What are the checks? There are free borders in Europe; how do you know who’s entering your country?
Ambassador: Well, we know who is entering because we have the Shengen system in which peoples’ identity is checked. Of course, the system is somewhat overwhelmed now by the magnitude of the flows that we’re talking about here, but basically the only way to get a handle on this is to increase cooperation on asylum and immigration matters in Europe, including beefing up our Shengen system which is in place exactly to find out what kind of people are coming in and find out if some of them have criminal or terrorist records. That’s a question of intelligence sharing. The system is never better than the intelligence that is fed into it. That’s where partners such as Israel and other partners in this region come in and where we are also reaching out in order to strengthen our cooperation on intelligence and other matters within. Prime Minister Netanyahu has also graciously offered the assistance as, you know, of the Israeli intelligence services to its French counterparts in the wake of this attack.
But also we need to police and protect our borders better. We are beefing up the Frontex agency which is basically responsible for protecting the outer borders of the [European] Union. We are looking also at establishing a special border guard drawing on contributions from member states, police, customs, and so on and so forth.
TML: Experts charge there is no collaborative effort among the nations. How do you see it?
Ambassador: It’s to be expected. The countries are overwhelmed, and particularly those who are the front line countries like Hungary, Greece, Italy who are the first recipients of these enormous flows from the Balkans and also through the middle Mediterranean route that the migrants and refugees are using. What we need to strengthen is the internal solidarity in the [European] Union in receiving these people. We need a system of redistributing the refugees around in Europe so the burden gets equally shared by the countries.
TML: The French ambassador to Israel said that some of those involved in the Paris attack were French nationals. He also stated that he was greatly concerned that the majority of Europeans who have joined ISIS are French. So again, I ask how you can control the flow in and out of the member states, and control who’s joining ISIS?
Ambassador: There is no evidence so far in any of the attacks that have taken place for the last two years in Europe that they were perpetrated by recently arrived immigrants or refugees. They have all been perpetrated by citizens of Europe. Now, the question of foreign fighters is a different one. We have about 5,000 Europeans participating in the civil war in Syria, but also in Iraq and are from time to time returning from the battlefields in these countries. We have stepped up our efforts to collectively monitor the travel and the activity of these foreign fighters because obviously they are in the searchlight when it comes to issues of terror and radicalization. So this is part of the anti-terror package that the heads of state and government passed in February in complete cooperation with the member states.
TML: Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen, Israel is upset by the new EU labeling labeling policy regarding goods originating in post-1967 areas. Has the labeling begun? What do you say to Israel?
Ambassador: It is a complicated area of EU legislation which pertains to consumer legislation on information. The upshot of the matter is that member states already two years ago asked the commission to clarify what are the rules and regulations when it comes to Israeli products and as it pertains to consumer legislation and information. It’s all based on existing legislation. So, in effect, all this should have been implemented a long time ago. Now, because the area is a bit confusing because there are many pieces of legislation involved, member states had been at a loss as how to do this in practice. This is now clarified and therefore it should be implemented immediately.
TML: Ambassador, Israeli leaders are complaining that it’s collective or selective punishment against Israel. Can you point to any other place where the EU has imposed this kind of labeling?
Ambassador: I cannot point to any other place because the other cases that are usually mentioned — northern Cyprus, Tibet, Western Sahara — are not similar cases. What I can say is that the EU imposed a boycott on products coming from Crimea as a result of the Russian occupation of that area. There, the products aren’t even coming in, so there is no need for education of origin on them, but it also goes to show that if the European Union wanted to boycott settlement products, that’s what they would have done, like what we have done, for example in Crimea. But we are not intending to boycott products from the Israeli settlements. They are still marketable on the European market. They just have to be labeled correctly.
TML: Isn’t it making a political statement, though? Aren’t you taking a side by making a political statement relative to an issue of a two-state solution that hasn’t yet been resolved?
Ambassador: As far as we are concerned, this is about, as I said before, European consumer legislation and we have, as a Union, based on the rule of law to live up to our own legislation and our own guidelines and that’s exactly what we are doing. All talk about boycott is totally beside the point.
TML: Is it a slippery slope, because the Boycott-Divestment-Sanction Movement (BDS) is claiming that the EU are standing behind them in doing this?
Ambassador: No, because this is actually the direct opposite of BDS. BDS is targeting all of Israel. This is not targeting all of Israel. Also, it’s not a boycott. I fail to see any comparison whatsoever to BDS or anything like that; and I also fail to see how this could be a slippery slope. This is about enacting legislation that’s already on the books and that apply across the board to any other product coming from anywhere in the world. I mean, these are not guidelines that apply to Israel only. They apply to all products coming from anywhere in the world and being imported into the internal market or the European Union.
TML: Ties between Israel and Europe, in terms of economic development and prosperity, seem to be strong. Where do they stand today?
Ambassador: They are doing better than ever. Our trade is growing every year and as I mentioned, it is 30 billion euro a year currently and it’s set to grow steadily over the coming years as well. So I think we are in a very, very good place and as I always say, “Our relations are for 85% [of the time] consensual, and mutually beneficial.” This is a very, very important perspective to keep in mind. There are bumps on the road here and there. The issue of settlements is one such bump on the road, but it shouldn’t detract from the overall picture which is one of harmonious relations and strong cooperation in mutual interest.
TML: Do you think a two-state solution is viable?
Ambassador: I think a two-state solution is very much viable. I think, as a matter-of-fact, that it’s the only solution because I happen not to believe in a one-state solution and I think the best evidence of that is what you have been seeing over the last month or so in Jerusalem and other places. That’s one of the reasons why a one-state solution is not an option, and a two-state solution is the only long term possibility that can guarantee Israel’s security and its continued existence as a democratic state with a Jewish majority.
TML: If you don’t hear the dissent about incitement from imams and school masters telling their children of thirteen years old to not go out and kill, how then do you develop a civil society?
Ambassador: No, incitement is condemnable, irrespective of which side it comes from incidentally. That’s what we are saying to everybody, so that’s my comment on that.
TML: Is it the right time for a two-state solution?
Ambassador: No, but this is a causal relationship here and I think it is in Israel’s interest to do its utmost to try to secure and achieve stability on the ground in order to avoid violence and in order to avoid destabilization.
TML: What does that mean?
Ambassador: Well, it requires some of the things I understand Prime Minister Netanyahu has been discussing with President Obama when he was in Washington. It involves practical measures on the ground that can improve the way of life for ordinary Palestinians, increase their ability to move around, their ability to access what they need and it requires increasing cooperation in areas like water, electricity, and so on and so forth, not least in the case of Gaza. And it also requires keeping the vision and the possibility of a two-state solution alive and that means curbing settlement expansion and avoiding demolishing Palestinian houses and structures and so on and so forth. That’s what it requires on the ground. And that’s what we hope to see in the weeks and months to come. It is Israel’s interest, in the whole communities’ interest, in order to ensure that this situation does not further escalate out of hand.
TML: Ambassador, than you very much.
Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen: Thank you very much.