Taxing the Israeli Occupation

CAIRO – Arab intellectuals and policymakers have often accused Europe of using financial generosity to cover up its political impotence over the Arab-Israeli conflict. If Europe is to be taken seriously as a global player, they argue, it must also flex some muscle when it delivers the money.

In Arab eyes, European officials implicitly plead guilty to these charges by pointing to Europe’s complex multilateral politics and the European Union’s bureaucratic nature. Europe’s Arab interlocutors are unimpressed: they want Europe to stop talking like a Great Power and start acting like one.

But it is precisely the EU’s desire to look more and more like a nation-state that has pushed its position on the Arab-Israeli conflict in the wrong direction. Europe’s inability to play a political role in the Middle East peace process was wrongly diagnosed as resulting from a European bias against Israel. Policy advisers argued that gaining Israel’s trust was necessary to win support for a European role in the peace process. Almost nothing became too dear in this quest: technology transfers, upgraded relations, association agreements, and even, reportedly, the prospect of joining the EU.

European policy thus revolved around simultaneously seducing Israel and bribing the Palestinian Authority. Financing Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank served both objectives at the same time, at a cost to European taxpayers of several billion euros. Yet this policy earned Europe neither recognition nor relevance. Palestinians continued to trivialize Europe’s contribution, and Israelis to loathe it for “financing Palestinian terror.”