Israel’s initial reaction to the decision to require that certain economic agreements with the European Union contain a commitment that they will not be used for activities in West Bank Jewish settlements was expected. The reaction was automatic. But after the wave of arrogant pronouncements about how Europe is not going to dictate to us subsides; after the grotesque calls to bar the EU from providing assistance to the Palestinians; and the childish argument that things are worse in Syria – and, the most ludicrous excuse of all, that the European decision is disrupting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to restart peace negotiations; after all this froth dissipates, Israel will be left to its fate facing the mirror that Europe has placed before it. The country finds itself at a critical juncture over whether to continue to maintain the occupation and pay the unbearable price, or whether to end the occupation, albeit outrageously late, and return Israel to the family of nations as a member in good standing.
The European continent of enlightenment and culture, as well as atrocities, has awakened late in the game. For years, it has been talking rather than acting. For years, Europe’s public opinion has been stirring while its governments remained paralyzed because of past legacies and fear of the United States. Those who feign surprise – and quite soon an Israeli commission of inquiry will be convened to investigate the failure of our embassy in Brussels to foresee this step – just prove how great the disconnect is between the international reality and the blindness that has gripped the government and public here.
It is of course possible to direct threats at Europe, like the mouse that roared. It is also possible to reproach the Europeans over their own injustices. But friends, it’s already too late. No one will take Israel’s excuses seriously any more. It can only be hoped that the European decision will be the harbinger of the demise of the occupation.
Europe is not interfering with Kerry’s negotiations, but is actually mobilizing support for him. And Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s reaction is therefore the most baseless. Lapid complained of the bad timing of the European move, which is always the excuse of those faint-hearted people for whom any change is poorly timed. Lapid claimed that the step would harm efforts towards negotiations. What negotiations and what will be harmed? The prospect that maybe it will lead Israel to come to its senses? That it will become more flexible?
After it is clear that the government has no intention of taking genuine steps to bring about an end to the occupation, and after it’s clear that ‘that occupation thing’ is not of interest to Israelis comes the European wake-up call, with almost perfect timing, just before it’s too late. Now it can only be hoped that Europe doesn’t stop with this minimal decision and that it is not put off by Israel’s “threats.”
It is not only Europe’s right to stop supporting the occupation. It is its duty – the duty of the continent to do everything in its power to put an end to the ongoing injustice. It’s the duty of the world as a whole, including the United States, which has refrained from acting. Israel cannot flaunt that it is the only democracy in the region and at the same time compare itself with Syria, calling it worse. Israel cannot pretend to be enlightened yet hide the dark side of its regime in the back yard. Those who believe that there is ongoing injustice, victims of which are suffering on a daily basis, must take every step possible to bring it to an end. And that includes both governments and individuals – and Israelis who know there is no other way forward other than external pressure. If it looks like injustice, acts like injustice and quacks like injustice, it is injustice. And those who want to bring about its end must take any step short of violence to put a stop to it.
The end is still distant. Europe will continue, as has been its wont, to take one step forward and two steps back. Its leadership will be careful not to hurt Israel too much, and even if the decision is implemented, its damage will be mostly rhetorical. The intention, however, is clear. The deal is clear, too. From now on the Israeli occupation comes with a price tag. Is there better news than that?