Earlier this month, the Parliament of the European Union adopted by a staggering majority a joint resolution on the European Union’s (EU) role in the Middle East peace process on September 10. The resolution’s significance lies in the fact that it will determine how the EU conducts itself in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the resolution as “unjustified”, it appears to be first time an EU resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict attributes some amount of responsibility to the Palestinian side and restrains one-sided condemnation of Israel.
In a recent interview with Tazpit News Agency, Bastiaan Belder, a Dutch member of the European Parliament from the Conservatives and Reformists party (ECR), regarding the details of the final draft and the struggle in adopting a more balanced resolution.
“All in all, the end result is not perfect, but worse was prevented,” Member of European Parliament (MEP) Belder told Tazpit. “Thankfully, right and center-leaning parties can team up and this way get concessions – given our political weight together, and insert some reasonability and honest communication in relation to our important partner, Israel.”
MEP Belder is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, serves as Vice-Chair of the EU-Israel Delegation and was one of the politicians behind the Israel-friendly negotiations over the resolution.
“There are true friends of Israel inside Europe and the European institutions,” says MEP Belder. “They work hard to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism within the European Union. They did it again, when faced with the strong negative draft for the joint motion resolution that was adopted in the European Parliament last week.”
According to Belder, the negotiations were uncharacteristically long for the European Parliament. After four hours of negotiations Belder’s ECR teamed up with the European Parliament’s largest political party, the European People’s Party (EPP), to delete what Belder called “the most poisonous language from the document.”
“One example of our joint effort was when the proposed draft called for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners from Israeli jails. The ECR and EPP refused profusely to include any such reference, arguing that some terrorists are in prison because they planned to commit, directly or indirectly, a terrorist act. Releasing such people would go entirely against peace and EU values,” Belder told Tazpit.
Other accomplishments of the EPP and ECR include inserting an operative clause that any rocket fire into Israel by militant groups is unacceptable and that it is imperative for the EU to work in partnership with Israel to prevent the re-arming of terrorist groups in Gaza and the West Bank.
The adopted resolution additionally calls for armed groups in Gaza and Judea and Samaria to disarm and disband, addresses Israel’s legitimate security concerns, and calls for EU authorities to ensure that no EU funding can be directly or indirectly diverted to terrorist organisations or activities.
“Unfortunately, the basic notion of Palestinian terrorism is always downplayed in the corridors of the European institutions,” Belder explains. “It is the friends of Israel who remind their colleagues, that terrorism is the root cause for instability in the region and the true obstacle to peace.”
Belder explains that although the original joint draft was proposed by the Socialist and Democrats (S&D), the second largest party in the European Parliament, it is the rather small GUE/NGL party (United Left and Nordic Green Left) “that is one of the sources of all the anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism at the Parliament.”
When asked about his recurring use of the unique term, anti-Israelism, Belder explains: “To me, Anti-Israelism stands for the immediate, automatic reaction to be against Israel and anything that is linked to Israel, just because somehow one believes one should. But, at the same time, one completely ignores all the good aspects of Israel – and completely seeks to impose sanctions and undermine Israel’s international legitimacy.”
“I am still convinced that we need strong EU-Israel ties and that we need to continue to fight anti-Semitism in Europe,” says Belder and explains his and his coalition’s stance.
“EU-Israel ties are instrumental to us. We flourish better when we do things together. Israel has so much to offer the EU and vice-versa. Israel is a front-runner in high-tech, security, medicine, business, culture, and so many other important areas. We want to retain strong economic, scientific and security cooperation with Israel ”
MEP Belder does not deny or oppose the EU’s aspirations of playing a more active and central role in the Middle East but elaborates his stand, “The Jewish State has been a rock of stability in much of the muddy and painstakingly gruesome Middle East, more so since the Arab uprisings.”
“If we, Europe, truly want to facilitate peace between Israel and its neighbours, we need to be a constructive partner, not a destructive one. Currently, the EU is being a destructive partner. We seek to change that,” says Belder.
By Michael Zeff
Tazpit News Agency