It is a longstanding complaint that Israel is unfairly harassed in those international forums that deal with human rights. On the other hand, countries that are too big to harass, such as Russian and China, or that are oil rich, such as the Gulf states, get away with anything. Well, here's news: Now that Israel has discovered vast offshore deposits of natural gas and even some oil, it can aspire to the status of a Gulf state. Not quite geographically, but in terms of the scruples that others can brush aside in their eagerness to do business.
This applies above all to the European Union (EU). According to a recent report, "Valeria Termini, vice president of the Council of European Energy Regulators, has held talks with senior Israeli Energy and Water Ministry officials" on the proposal to link Israel's natural gas fields to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline. The EU would benefit from reduced dependence on Russian natural gas, while the cost to Israel of marketing the gas would be greatly reduced, since there would be no need to liquefy the natural gas (LNG) and ship it on tankers. "An LNG terminal is estimated to cost between $7 billion to $10 billion while a pipeline to the European network can be built for $2 billion-$3 billion."
Yet Israel is not putting all its gas eggs in the EU basket. Another report tells us: "In July 2012 President Vladimir Putin visited Israel, largely to discuss the gas fields. The Russian Gazprom has signed a deal with Israel on the future distribution of the large Israel gas resources, and plans to build a floating facility off Cyprus to convert the product to LNG." The reason given was that the civil war in Syria has frustrated an earlier Gazprom project to pump gas from Iran to the Lebanese coast. In other words, Israel is being courted by both Russia and the EU and can choose what to award to either of those suitors. "Human rights" issues are off that agenda.
Recent Gestures toward Israel
Now, there has been a lot of fluttering of feathers over the recently publicized EU guidelines on Jewish settlements across the "green line." We shall turn to that in a moment, but it should not distract our attention from a series of remarkably friendly gestures toward Israel, emanating from Europe in recent months.
Precisely at the last meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, the EU took vehement exception to Special Rapporteur Richard Falk's most recent report, aka baseless diatribe against Israel. It denounced the report in these words: "The EU continues to regret the unbalanced mandate of the Special Rapporteur and is also concerned that parts of the report include political considerations. In the past, the EU emphasized that future reports should be based on a more factual and legal analysis, and we regret to see no genuine progress in that direction. The council needs to be provided with accurate, factual information and solid allegations to fulfill its role and address the human rights situation in occupied Palestinian territory." In short, please stop trying to fool us with fictions about Israeli human rights violations.
In another example, Israel's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni recently expressed worry about an EU boycott of Israeli goods, but this was quickly downplayed by a "senior European diplomatic official" speaking to the Jerusalem Post. The official called a boycott of Israeli goods "highly unlikely," since "businessmen in a number of European countries are keen on partnering with Israeli companies to use their technology and innovation in opening up markets in third countries, often in the Far East." Moreover, "even a European boycott on just settlement products would run into a great deal of difficulty in the EU, with a number of countries - such as Germany, the Netherlands and others - likely to oppose it." The only concrete step that the official envisaged was "restricting travel to the EU by certain violent settlers." Some of the latter, by the way, face restrictions in Israel itself.
The same message was emphatically given by Matthew Gould, the UK's Ambassador to Israel, speaking at his embassy's celebration of the Queen's birthday. Boycotts, he said, "do nothing to build understanding, they put up walls when we should be tearing them down." Referring to Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, he admitted that Israel and the UK "don't always agree on everything," but "the important thing is that we disagree as friends, and we will stand alongside Israel as a friend." As for trade: "In the past year we've built huge strides in building a relationship in technology; we've continued to grow the level of trade between Britain and Israel, so we are now Israel's biggest export market in the world, after the United States."
He could have added that, conversely, Israel is "the UK's largest individual trading partner in the near East and North Africa," according to another report. Mutual trade topped £3 billion in 2009 and is now close to £4 billion. Yes, anti-Israel louts succeeded in terrorizing a shop in London's West End, which was selling Israeli cosmetics, into closing. Despite that petty success, about £1.1 billion's worth of Israeli-produced pharmaceuticals were purchased by Britain in 2012; they save lots of money for the UK's troubled National Health Service. The British also spent £82 million on Israeli food and drink products. Attempts to boycott Israel in British supermarkets just prompt buying sprees by friends of Israel.
Other attempts to disturb EU-Israel ties have also been rejected. The European Under-21 Soccer championship was held in Israel, despite Palestinian objections, and evoked high praise from UEFA president Michel Platini: "The stadiums were wonderful and well-organized, the pitches excellent and the atmosphere in the stadiums was great with many families with young children attending. That is exactly the type of tournament that I like to see." He rejected "taking hostage" soccer "for political, economic, communication reasons, reasons of image." The EU and Israel also recently signed an open skies agreement for civil aviation.
Admittedly, Stephen Hawking refused to come to the birthday party of President Shimon Peres. For his decision he was chastised by, among others, the London Times in an editorial entitled: "Abuse of Science: Hawking's boycott of Israel is intellectually and morally disreputable." Said the Times: "Professor Hawking should never have put his name to this campaign. It is an example of intellectual obscurantism masquerading as humanitarian concern. And that is stupid." Hawking was one of 5,000 invitees; as far as is known, the other 4,999 were not stupid enough to follow his lead.
Those EU Guidelines
Now to the new EU guidelines, which are designed to ban European cooperation with Israeli institutions beyond the armistice lines agreed by Israel and the Arab states in 1949. They are the brainchild of Christian Berger, "an Austrian diplomat who for the past few years was the EU envoy in the Palestinian territories" and who now heads the European Commission's Middle East department. No coincidence?
The announcement of this initiative evoked widespread and well justified indignation in Israel. Ever since, other European bureaucrats have being trying to assure Israelis that the guidelines make no changes and mean next to nothing. Contrary to earlier reports, we are now assured that the guidelines do not decree that "contracts between EU member states and Israel must include a clause stating that east Jerusalem and the West Bank are not part of the State of Israel and therefore not part of the contract."