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24 Feb, 2016

Chinese News Analysis: Israel faces mounting pressure over Palestinian issue

JERUSALEM, 23 February 2016, (Xinhua) – As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict enters another tense year, Israel is facing mounting pressure over its decades-long policy towards the Palestinians.

Most likely, as history repeats itself, the pressure will not lead Israel to make any significant changes in its policy, but will only further isolate the country in the international arena, observers here said.

Recently, the European Union (EU) released a policy statement saying that any contracts or agreements with Israel do not apply to the occupied territories which the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

While Israel forcefully voiced its objection to the move, the Palestinians welcomed it.

They believe that Israel’s policy of expanding settlements on what they claim as their lands is a stumbling block to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the future.

In addition to this declaration by the EU, the organization had announced at the end of 2015 that it will begin to label goods manufactured by Israelis in the West Bank. Israel sees this as an attempt to boycott the country.

The Israeli government has insisted that such moves promote unilateralism, while a solution to the conflict should be reached through bilateral negotiations.

But no one is rushing to the negotiating table just yet.

Dr. Guy Harpaz from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is an expert on international law. He does not see the moves by the EU as having any real influence on policy. “Such a decision only re-enforces the political pressure exerted on the state of Israel with respect to the territories.”

While there is no real threat to the Israeli economy from any such boycott, Israel is finding itself lonelier than ever before.

There is a fear within the Israeli government that such declarations could have a snowball effect that may result in more substantial sanctions against Israel. This could have crippling implications on the country.

Hints to this can be found in the international condemnation Israel faced in every last conflict with the Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip. While fighting militants, Israel was at a loss to find many allies that supported its military offensives for long.

The opposition in Israel has called on the government to re-asses its policies in light of growing international pressure but the right-wing government has demonstrated the opposite – further entrenchment in its settlement policies.

Official Israeli statistics show that in the recent years of the right-wing government, the population of settlers living beyond the 1967 borders has grown substantially.

Palestinians see this as facts on the ground that will make the creation of a state a nearly impossible challenge to meet. So far, the EU seems to be naïve in its belief that it can influence any moves in this conflict-ridden region.

In fact, it will most likely be another resounding failure of the EU to have an effect on any major international matter.

“The EU is becoming more and more frustrated by Israel’s policies and it feels that only concrete pressure might cause Israel to adjust, to amend its policies with respect to the territories,” said Harpaz.

Harpaz points out a double standard in the European policies which the organizations fails to implement on other similar conflicts.

“The fact that the EU applies very strict policies towards Israel and fails to do so with respect to other countries raises concerns about a double standard or even politization of legal positions.”

So while Israel should indeed consider a change in its policies towards the Palestinians, the EU is arming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who can claim that the recent declarations do not have the true intent of promoting negotiations.

In a recent statement by Netanyahu he has said that EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini assured him that there was no intention by the European body to influence the decision on the final borders between Israel and the Palestinians.

Whether the recent attempts by the EU will have an actual impact on the ground or not, it is clear that at the moment that Israel is not deterred by any of this.

For now, the negotiating table remains empty, leaving room for unilateral actions by both sides.

Under these circumstances, increasing international pressure may eventually play a more significant role in forcing Israel to change its policies.

In this Middle Eastern ritual, deadlock and more violence is the most certain outcome.