moves for trade sanctions
April 11, 2002
The European Parliament adopted a strongly worded resolution Wednesday
calling for the suspension of trade relations with Israel to protest
its military offensive against the Palestinians. While the resolution
is non-binding, it will add pressure on European governments to
consider their relations with Israel.
By a vote of 269 to 208, with 22 abstentions, the Strasbourg-based
parliament representing the European Union called on the bloc to
"suspend immediately" its trade and cooperation agreement
The resolution called for an arms embargo against "Israel
and Palestine" and condemned suicide bombings. But its strongest
words were reserved for Israel, as it condemned the "military
escalation pursued by the Sharon government" and the "oppression
of the Palestinian civilian population by the Israeli army."
European foreign ministers are due to meet on Monday in Brussels
to discuss the EU's ties with Israel, but it was seen unlikely that
they would impose sanctions.
Israel has a two-year-old accord with the European Union providing
for political dialogue and preferential treatment for Israeli exports.
The agreement grants tax exemptions to Israeli products, allowing
them to compete in European markets. Ministry of Industry and Trade
figures show that Israel's exports to the EU totaled $7.7 billion
in 2001 (31% of Israel's exports), while imports from the EU totaled
$13.9 billion (41% of Israel's imports).
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, whose country holds the EU
presidency, prepared the ground for the parliament's decision by
saying last week, "Sanctions against Israel are a possible
scenario." But according to Yediot Aharonot, the fact that
Israel prevented EU officials Javier Solana and Miguel Moratinos
from meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in
Ramallah, while American envoy Anthony Zinni was allowed to enter
the besieged presidential compound, was the "straw that broke
the camel's back."
Even though the European decision was mostly symbolic, Israeli
officials said that it was a harsh blow to Israel's relations with
Europe. "There is a basic lack of understanding in Europe to
the damage this has caused, and to the fact that Europe, which wants
to find a role in the Middle East, will find itself out of the game
due to its pro-Arab positions," they said, cited in Maariv.
Trade and Industry Minister Dalia Itzik said the European decision
was an "incorrect step" and came "after a distorted
and wholly one-sided picture had been presented in Europe."
Ministry officials noted that it was impossible to cancel trade
agreements immediately, and that Israel's accords with European
nations allow for a six-month cancellation process. The accords
are based on the assumption that both sides adhere to international
conventions, and apparently the Europeans were influenced by Palestinian
claims that Israel was violating their basic human rights, officials
Ambassador Gincarlo Chevallard, the European Commission's representative
in Israel, told the Jerusalem Post that there were no intentions
to suspend Israel's association with the European Union. "We
need to maintain dialogue with Israel, not antagonize it,"
Jackie Eldan, in charge of the European Union desk at the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, dismissed the importance of the parliament's
decision. "History shows that European Parliament decisions
gather dust on the shelves, and at best are read by the EU Desk
officers," he said, quoted in Globes.
The Middle East Newswire reported that despite its call for a total
arms embargo, the European Union plans to send 50 million euros
to Arafat over the coming weeks to pay his security officers and
meet other salary obligations by the PA. Officials said Arafat would
have discretion over the EU funding, which will be paid in monthly
installments through July.
Germany suspends arms
This week, Germany suspended arms sales to Israel. German officials
refused to use the word "embargo" to describe the action,
the Washington Post reported. In 2000, the sale of German military
equipment to Israel was valued at about $170 million and included
parts for tanks and torpedoes.
"I can categorically say this is not an embargo," Israel's
ambassador to Germany Shimon Stein told the Washington Post. "There
are some problems that need to be resolved and that is subject to
ongoing discussion. We hope that we can overcome the difficulty."
The paper added that the German decision followed meetings between
officials and Dore Gold, foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon. The German press agency DPA reported that the Israeli
Ministry of Defense filed a letter of protest with the German government
over its refusal to allow sales.
Ha'aretz reported that parts for the Merkava tank engine and gearbox
have been delayed in Germany for more than three months as officials
there delayed export approvals, even before Israel's recent military
operations. The parts are needed for the current generation of Merkava
tanks, designated V-III, and will severely affect the production
of the Merkava V-IV, due to go into production next year.
Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel this week issued an order
suspending Belgian military sales to Israel, a Belgian newspaper
reported, to prevent their use in Israeli fighting against the Palestinians.