Palestine: The EU, and Ireland, follow the US


Ireland hasn’t got an independent policy on Palestine.  It follows EU policy, which in practice means US policy, since the EU is yoked to the US (along with Russia and the UN Secretary-General) in the so-called Middle East Quartet.


The picture the Quartet likes to present to the world is one of a body devoted to mediating between Israel and the Palestinians to arrive at a political settlement.  In reality, its purpose is to provide a veneer of international legitimacy for US policy and actions in the region.  The bizarre presence of the UN Secretary-General in the Quartet is useful for this purpose.


Whenever possible, the US gets the Quartet to publicly endorse what it wants to do.  If this isn’t possible, the US does what it wants to do without the imprimatur of the Quartet, in the sure and certain knowledge that the other members of the Quartet won’t criticise its actions in public.


The EU follows the US

Lest there be any doubt about this, listen to Alvaro de Soto, who was the UN Secretary-General’s Middle East envoy for two years until his retirement in May 2007.  In his End of Mission report to the UN Secretary-General, which was very critical of the Secretary-General’s role in the Quartet, he wrote:


“Whatever the Quartet was at the inception, let us be frank with ourselves: today, as a practical matter, the Quartet is pretty much a group of friends of the US – and the US doesn’t feel the need to consult closely with the Quartet except when it suits it.” [1] (paragraph 63)


(For further details, see my article UN Secretary-General has toed US line in the Middle East [2])


Or listen to Graham Watson, British Liberal Democrat MEP and leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, speaking to the Parliament on 10 March 2008:


The major condemnation of the European Union in all of this is that we have followed blindly the strategy of the Americans. Marc Otte, the European Union’s Special Representative, speaking to our Delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council recently, said that, on strategy, the European Union follows the USA. The most obvious result of this is that Palestinian infrastructure, funded by the European taxpayer, is being regularly destroyed by the Israeli army using American weapons. Should we be committing European money in this way, in these circumstances?” [3]


Looking in from the outside, it is fairly obvious that the EU tailends the US in the Quartet.  Marc Otte has confirmed it from the inside.


January 2006 elections

Two years ago in January 2006, Hamas contested elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) for the first time.  By then it had been on a truce for nearly a year, having announced a truce and ceased suicide bombings in Israel in February 2005.


In these elections, Hamas won 44.5% of the “national list” vote and 74 out of the 132 seats in the PLC, compared with Fatah’s 45.  It is worth emphasising that nobody, not even President Bush, questioned the fairness of these elections.  Hamas won, and won fair and square.


But, taking its cue from the US, the EU refused to accept the result of the elections and refused to deal with either of the two Hamas-led governments set up in the next eighteen months.  Instead, the EU joined the US in collectively punishing Palestinians by withdrawing economic aid to the Palestinian government, because 44.5% of them had dared to vote for an organisation of which the US/EU disapproved.  Ireland never uttered a word of dissent from this scandalous refusal to accept the result of what were free and fair elections.


Both of the Hamas-led governments were properly established in accordance with the Palestinian constitution (the Basic Law [4]).  In each case, Ismail Haniyeh was duly appointed as Prime Minister by President Mahmoud Abbas.  In each case, also, the government put together by Haniyeh sought, and was given, a vote of confidence by the PLC as required by Article 79(4) of the Basic Law, which states:


“The Prime Minister and any of the Ministers shall not assume the duties of their positions until they obtain the confidence of the PLC.”


The second of these governments, established in March 2007, was a National Unity Government, which included ministers from Fatah and other parties in the PLC, plus independents.


EU supports overthrow

In June 2007, the EU supported the overthrow of this properly constituted government and its replacement by an entity led by Salam Fayyad that has no democratic validity whatsoever.


Fayyad’s main qualification for the post was his popularity in Washington.  It wasn’t the first time that this qualification had earned him a seat in government in Palestine: in 2001, the US forced Yasser Arafat to accept him as Finance Minister and he served in this post until the Fatah government resigned after their defeat by Hamas in January 2006.


Fayyad was elected to the PLC in January 2006 as the leader of the Third Way party, which received 2.4% of the “national list” vote and got 2 seats on the PLC.   So, a Hamas Prime Minister, whose party got 44.5% of the “national list” vote, and won 74 seats overall, has been replaced by a Third Way Prime Minister, whose party got 2.4% of the “national list” vote, and has 2 seats overall.  The US/EU has finally brought democracy to the Middle East !


Fayyad has never sought a vote of confidence from the PLC for the “government” he put together – because he hasn’t a hope in hell of getting a vote of confidence.  Nevertheless, the EU, including Ireland, now deals with this entity as if it were the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority.


US foments civil war

The overthrow of the Hamas-led National Unity Government in June 2007 was the culmination of 18 months of US plotting to undo the result of the January 2006 elections.  This was detailed by David Rose in an article entitled The Gaza Bombshell in the April 2008 issue of the US magazine Vanity Fair.  Here’s an extract:


Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Mohammed Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power.” [5]


Even though Hamas won the PLC elections, and took the leading role in the governments formed as a result, it never succeeded in taking control of the various Palestinian security services (14 in all) built up under Yasser Arafat.  Fatah managed to retain control of them, including of substantial forces in Gaza, so Hamas was always vulnerable – which is why it set up its own 6,000-strong Executive Force in Gaza.


The US plan was for Fatah-controlled forces in Gaza under Mohammed Dahlan to eliminate this Executive Force and take control of Gaza.  To that end, the US organised the reinforcement of the Fatah-controlled forces in Gaza in April/May 2007.  Correctly surmising that this was a portent of an attack on it, Hamas took pre-emptive military action and within a few days Gaza was under its control.  Most of the Fatah-controlled forces didn’t fight.


For the previous year or so, the US had been putting immense pressure on President Abbas to dismiss Haniyeh as Prime Minister and appoint Fayyad in his stead, as the President is allowed to do under the Article 45 of the Basic Law.  On 14 June 2007, after Hamas routed the Fatah-controlled forces in Gaza, Abbas finally did as the US told him.  However, as I have said, Fayyad has never sought a vote of confidence for his “government” from the PLC and therefore isn’t a legitimate government under the Basic Law.  Indeed, until he receives such a vote of confidence, the National Unity Government led by Haniyeh is the legitimate government under the Basic Law.


These events are constantly described as a Hamas coup in Gaza.  In reality, what happened was a US-backed Fatah coup, which overthrew the legitimate Hamas-led National Unity Government.  The coup wasn’t fully successful, because pre-emptive military action by Hamas prevented the Fatah takeover of Gaza that the US planned.


The EU would no doubt claim that its hands are clean, that it had nothing to do with the dirty business of fomenting civil war in Palestine, in which its partner in the Quartet was engaged.  Alvaro de Soto tells [1] of a meeting of the Quartet in early 2007, when a US envoy rejoiced at the near civil war between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza, in which civilians were being regularly killed and injured.  “I like this violence”, he exclaimed (twice).  The EU, including Ireland, kept its mouth shut as the US fomented civil war in Palestine.


But when the National Unity Government was overthrown and replaced by the illegitimate Sayyad-led entity, the EU rushed to support it.  A statement issued on 15 June 2007 said:


“The EU Presidency emphatically supports President Abbas’ decision, in keeping with the Palestinian Basic Law, to dismiss the government and to appoint a caretaker government for the Palestinian territories.” [6]


That promotes the lie that the Sayyad-led entity is a legitimate government established in a accordance with the Basic Law.  Ireland has put its name to that lie.


More collective punishment

Since June 2007, Israel’s military and economic pressure on Gaza has increased to unprecedented levels.  Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the first three months of 2008, 106 in five days from 27 February to 3 March.  In a report issued on 6 March 2008, a group of NGOs including Trócaire, CAFOD, Oxfam, Amnesty International and Christian Aid said that “the situation for 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is worse now than it has ever been since the start of the Israeli military occupation in 1967” [7].


This has produced mild criticism from the EU, but nothing more.  For example, an EU Presidency statement on 2 March 2008 said:


“The Presidency condemns the recent disproportionate use of force by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) against Palestinian population in Gaza and urges Israel to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from all activities that endanger civilians. Such activities are contrary to international law.” [8]


The Irish Government has reacted in a similar manner.  Replying to a question in the Dail on 11 March 2008, from Labour TD, Michael D Higgins, Foreign Minister, Dermot Ahern, went so far as to describe Israel’s economic strangulation of Gaza as “collective punishment”:


“I remain deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza. It is unacceptable that Israel should isolate the people of Gaza and cut off essential supplies in order to exert pressure on them to reject Hamas. I agree with the United Nations that this constitutes collective punishment and is illegal under international humanitarian law.” [9]


Collective punishment of people under occupation is contrary to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.


The Euro-Med Agreement

As part of what is known as the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership [10], which was established in 1995, the EU has Association Agreements with a number of states on the southern and eastern Mediterranean.  These Agreements involve, inter alia, preferential trade arrangements with the EU.  An Agreement was signed with Israel in 1995, which came into force in 2000 [11]. 


Article 2 of this Agreement makes clear that Israel’s privileged access to the EU market is conditional on Israel respecting “human rights and democratic principles”.  It states:


“Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.”


Sinn Fein TD, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, asked Dermot Ahern on 11 March 2008 “if he will call on all other EU member states to suspend preferential trade with Israel”, because of recent human rights violations by Israel.  But Ahern categorically refused, saying:


“There have been calls for suspension or review of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement with Israel in protest at military operations and human rights violations. The Government is opposed to any such move, which would in any case require consensus within the European Union.”


Israel has killed hundreds of Palestinians in the past few months and produced the worst humanitarian crisis in Gaza since Israel’s occupation began in 1967, by what Dermot Ahern agrees is collective punishment contrary to international humanitarian law.  There isn’t the slightest doubt, therefore, that because of these actions Israel is in breach of its human rights obligations under Article 2 of the Agreement and that the Agreement should be suspended.  But the Government says No.  One is left wondering what has Israel to do in order to provoke the Irish Government into supporting the suspension of the Agreement.


Dermot Ahern sought to justify the Government’s stance by saying that suspension would require “consensus within the EU”.  That comes close to admitting that Ireland cannot have an independent foreign policy, because of its membership of the EU.


Dermot Ahern continued:


“It [the suspension of the Agreement] would not serve the interests of any of the parties. Meetings of the Association Council with Israel provide the opportunity for the EU to highlight its concerns on the human rights implications of Israel’s security policies.”


That argument doesn’t stand up: on the contrary, there’s a very good chance that even a threat to suspend the Agreement would cause Israel to ease, if not cease, its collective punishment of Gaza.  Israel’s privileged access to the EU market is very important to it, both economically and politically, so even a threat that this access might be denied would most likely cause it to make life easier for the people of Gaza.  One thing is certain: talking to Israel at meetings Association Council will make no impact whatsoever on Israel.


Dealing with Hamas

In the course of answering Michael D Higgins, Minister Ahern described Hamas as “a strong entity within the region” which “will at some stage have to be part of the solution rather than the problem”.  Therefore, “we will have to find a method for dealing with it sooner rather than later”, he concluded.


This is sheer hypocrisy from a Minister in a Government which, at the behest of the US and Israel, has gone along with the Quartet policy of isolating Hamas and in June 2007 acquiesced in the overthrow of the legitimate Hamas-led National Unity Government. 


An opportunity to deal with Hamas existed two years ago in January 2006, when, for the first time, it stood for PLC elections and won a majority of the seats.  By the time of the elections, Hamas had engaged in no military activity against Israel, either in Israel itself or in the Occupied Territories, for nearly a year (although other groups, for example, Islamic Jihad, had done so).  And Hamas spokesmen were making it clear to anybody who would listen that it was seeking a long term truce with Israel, the price being Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.


There could hardly have been a more favourable time for “dealing with” Hamas and perhaps bringing a measure of peace to Palestine.  But, instead of taking this opportunity, the EU, with the shameful acquiescence of Ireland, refused to accept the verdict of the ballot box and joined with the US and Israel in collectively punishing Palestinians – and kept quiet while the US fomented civil war amongst Palestinians.


What is more, the EU stood idly by while the new Olmert government kidnapped Hamas PLC members in the West Bank and engaged in a fierce military assault against Hamas in Gaza, despite it being on ceasefire (see my article Israel:  The West stands idly by [12]).  More than a 100 Palestinians, over half of then non-combatants, were killed in less than 3 months.


Hamas stuck to its ceasefire, in the face of this fierce assault, until 25 June 2006 when with other groups it mounted an attack on Israeli troops at Kerem Shalom outside Gaza, as a result of which two Israeli soldiers were killed and Gilad Shalit was captured.  This was the excuse for Israel to further intensify its murderous assault on Gaza and collectively punish its inhabitants by bombing its only power station.  Again, the EU stood idly by.  In all, nearly 700 Palestinians (and 23 Israelis, including 17 civilians) were killed in 2006, a year which began with Hamas on ceasefire.


So, how does Minister Ahern propose to “find a method for dealing” with Hamas now?  He could propose in the EU that the legitimate Hamas-led National Unity Government be reinstated.  But don’t hold your breath.



David Morrison

1 April 2008

Irish Foreign Affairs





[3]  See