Shir Hever: European Union announces restrictions for funding Israeli colonies; Israeli government in panic because every aspect of Israel’s economy and society could be affected by the EU decision
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
The European Union has announced that starting in 2014 it’s going to ban funding and cooperation with Israeli institutions based in the occupied territories. The move is being described as a political earthquake in Israel, and officials have said it threatens future peace talks.
Now joining us to give us more details about this latest development is Shir Hever. He’s an economist studying the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories for the Alternative Information Center, a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization dedicated to publishing alternative information and analysis.
Thank you for joining us, Shir.
SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: Thank you for having me, Jaisal.
NOOR: So, Shir, what’s your reaction to this latest announcement? It’s being created with anger and skepticism in Israel.
HEVER: Well, if we only look at legal aspect of it, it actually doesn’t seem so much of a big story, because the European laws have already said long ago that Europe should not encourage any kind of economic cooperation with Israel. The various association agreements that the E.U. signed with Israel don’t apply to the occupied territory. So that’s old news.
And if you look at the actual document that was published now by the E.U., it talks about guidelines, not about commitment or enforcement of–which would restrict the ability of the member states of the E.U. to fund whoever they wish. So if we just look at the official level, it doesn’t seem like much news.
But actually these are very big news, because what we see here is a sort of awakening of a debate that has been brewing in Europe for many years, where European officials are completely aware that they are actually participating in funding the occupation to some extent. They’re helping Israel continue the occupation. At some point they’re going to have to face consequences for this. They’re going to have to take responsibility for this.
One of the reasons that the peace process has not been successful is that Israel was not held accountable for crimes committed against Palestinians and that Israel continued to get very good trade relations with Europe, with United States, with many other countries which allow Israel to do whatever they want, and even to profit, for example by exporting agricultural produce that they produce inside the occupied territory.
The reason that they’re calling it an earthquake, though, is that these new guidelines that are published by the E.U. are not just talking about customs issues that have been debated for many years already regarding agricultural products, for example, but now they’re also talking about any kind of cooperation. And that also means in the field of culture, in the field of academia. That means the various grants and funds that go from the E.U. to various Israeli institutions, to Israeli universities, are going to be restricted if those Israeli institutions are actually involved in the occupation in some way.
Now, what everyone in Israel knows–maybe not everyone in Europe knows, but certainly the Israeli officials are well aware of it–is that almost every institution in Israel is very deeply connected to the occupation. Almost every university in Israel is deeply involved in illegal colonizing activity. Almost all the cultural projects in Israel are being funded by organizations that promote colonization, that sustain colonization. Israel’s main theaters do shows in the occupied colonies, in the colonies in the occupied territory. So this is what makes the Israelis very concerned.
Israelis realize that this is a direct continuation of the BDS program, the BDS, boycott, divestment, sanctions movement that is calling to put pressure on Israel through economic pressure, cultural pressure, and to make Israel accountable. And I think at this point it has convinced many European officials at least to understand that they just cannot be party of that crime. So just as a sort of way to wash their hands of complicity with Israel’s crimes, they’re saying, we’re not going to find any of these projects that are involved in the occupation.
NOOR: Now, I’m going to quote The Jerusalem Post here, but right-wing members of Parliament have said the E.U. decision is racist, we will build more settlements. What’s your response?
HEVER: I think they’re in panic. Netanyahu called a press conference and said that outside pressure will not move Israel from its policy. We know from experience that it’s exactly the opposite. Outside pressure has always been very effective in making Israel know the limits of its power.
And at this point, the right-wing members of the government are talking about retaliation. They’re using very violent rhetoric. They’re talking about punishing Palestinians for what the E.U. is doing. And, for example, the industrial union of Israel said that because the sanctions which are going to be imposed by the E.U., they are going to make Palestinian workers suffer for the E.U. policy.
Israel’s minister of the economy, Bennett, from the extreme right-wing Jewish Home Party, said just a week ago, after he came back from a trip in China, that the world is not very interested in the occupation. Israel can basically do whatever they want, and people are more interested in things like technology and trade, so Israel shouldn’t really be concerned about pursuing the peace process. And now he’s speaking a completely different tune. Now he’s saying that–he called the E.U. decision a terror attack against the peace process, which is quite amazing considering the fact that the Israel’s rights to colonize the occupied territory seems, according to his logic, to be a requirement for the peace process, which means, of course, that he has no interest in the peace process.
But what I think is more interesting is not what we hear from the extreme-right members of the parliament and government, because this is quite expected, there’s no news there, but what we see from the so-called left or center party of the government, the head of the opposition, and the minister of finance–there’s also a member of Parliament in charge of the peace process. And they’re saying something that we haven’t heard before very frequently in high levels of–in high echelons of the Israeli government. They are saying that this move by the E.U. proves that the negotiations have been stalled for too long, that the right-wing policies are driving Israel over the cliff and into the abyss, and that there is no time to lose, Israel has to do something. And that’s quite interesting, because when they’re trying to make political profit from basically sanctions imposed against Israel by the international community, they are then associating themselves with the people who say that sanctions against Israel have merit, they can work, and they’re positive. And this is not something that’s very close to the mainstream in Israel. And we’re seeing a very big shift now. I think this is cause for some optimism, that people in Israel are realizing that they just can’t go on colonizing and occupying without borders as long as they want. There are, at some point, some consequences.
NOOR: Now, Shir, isn’t it important to remember that the majority of settlement expansion has happened under left-wing governments in Israel?
HEVER: You’re absolutely right. And actually one of the things that we see in the Israeli government is that so-called right-wing governments in Israel don’t need to prove that they hate Arabs, that they hate Palestinians so much. Their policies can be a bit more well thought through and cautious. And the parties that are conceived within the Israeli political sphere as so-called left or center parties, they would not be considered left in any other country. That should be clear. But within Israel, these parties are considered left. They need to constantly prove that they’re strong enough, that they’re tough on the Palestinians.
So we did see that the most vicious wars and attacks, the assassinations policy that Israel is using without trial against Palestinians, the war and invasion of Gaza of 2008, 2009 in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed, these were policies of so-called centrist or leftist governments, while Netanyahu, which is a very right-wing prime minister associated with very extreme right movement in Israel, he can afford to make some compromise. He’s not going to lose the right vote, the right-wing vote, and that gives him a bit more flexibility. I think if we look at South Africa, for example, when apartheid collapsed, it was de Klerk, which was the right-wing prime minister opposed to the dismantling of apartheid, opposed to human rights of the black population, who eventually succumbed to the pressure and agreed to hold a general election.
NOOR: Shir Hever, thank you so much for joining us.
HEVER: Thank you, Jaisal.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.