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The EU accelerates trade with Israel, despite human rights abuses

Amelia Smith

October 14, 2012

The EU's 500 million citizens account for about 60% of Israel's total trade. Europe is Israel's largest source of imports and its second biggest export market, second only to the United States.

That's a lot of bargaining potential when it comes to addressing Israel's bullish behaviour in the Middle East. A boycott of Israeli goods for example, could finally push Israel to stop its breaches of international law.

But instead of exercising this negotiating clout, the EU is actually planning to boost trade between them through the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA). They would rather maintain, or make worse, the status quo than address human rights violations.

If it is permitted, the agreement will reduce practical barriers, which currently stand in the way of trade, and make the flow of goods between Israel and the EU easier. Whether the deal in question will materialise depends on an imminent European Parliamentary vote, and could be approved by the end of the month.

ACAA's supporters argue that it is simply a "technical" measure. That the benefits of such a system could offer greater health related goods, considering the agreement is limited to pharmaceutical produce.

But does anyone actually believe that it will continue to apply only to medicine? It won't stop here. It will be a stepping-stone, and could pave the way for many other types of merchandise.

Whilst the agreement will improve Israel's economic integration into the EU's single market and enhance co-operation between the countries, it will do so at the expense of Palestinians' well-being.

Reverence for human rights is the EU's motto, it is supposed to run through the core of everything it does, especially foreign policy. Take Turkey for example, whose human rights record has long prevented its entry into the EU.

It is strange then that Israel should be treated so differently. Which part of the separation wall and the torrent of human rights abuses that occur from its presence, have those who are poised to sign the agreement missed about Israel? Their expansion policies in the West Bank and the demolition of Palestinian homes are not civil liberties. Sadly, it seems Israel will continue to be a member of the elite club regardless.

If the economic interest of big powers wins over local interests it will be nothing new; think Germany and its contract to sell nuclear-tipped submarines to Israel. Angela Merkel may have asked Benjamin Netanyahu to halt settlement activity and build a sewage treatment plant in the Gaza Strip in exchange, but none of these conditions have been met.

Ironically, today the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize for encouraging peace in Europe. As he pronounced the award, committee president Thorbjoern Jagland commended the EU for encouraging "peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights."

But the prize's recipients are often steeped in controversy; Obama once balanced the trophy in one hand and two wars in the other.

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