The Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products Protocol (the “ACAA”) sounds extremely tedious – but please bear with us for a second because it is important.
It is official Lib Dem party policy that the EU Israel Association Agreement – which gives Israel many trade privileges for its products in the EU – should be suspended until Israel ends its blockade of Gaza. Following the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla in May 2010, MEPs froze consideration of the ACAA with Israel but now it is returning for debate in the European Parliament, whose approval is needed if the agreement is to be implemented.
It looks as though the Parliament’s vote whether to approve it will be a cliff-hanger, and the votes of our Lib Dem MEPs will be crucial.
We will be suggesting a pro forma letter for you to send to your MEP on this, but in the meantime if you are in contact with him or her, please note some arguments which are being raised by those within the party who support the approval of the ACAA:
(a) This is a technical agreement which is an implementation of the association agreement and does not represent any political upgrade of the EU-Israel relationship.
Whether technical or not, party policy is clear: the conference resolution which sets out party policy does not make a distinction between “technical” and “political” upgrades. The ACAA was part of the upgrading “package” under discussion between the EU and Israel at the time MEPs froze upgrading after the attack on the Gaza flotilla. Please point this out to your MEP.
(b) The practical benefits for Europe are significant, with blockage denying European consumers access to cheaper drugs as well as depriving EU pharmacy manufacturers of easier market access in Israel (since the streamlining of approvals for pharmaceuticals is a mutual exercise).
The ACAA will represent enormous financial benefits for Israel. Support of human rights and international law should take priority over the supply of cheap drugs.
(c) The Middle East situation and its various rights and wrongs is too complex for generalised boycotts and sanctions to be appropriate. Should we also block the recently agreed EU-Palestinian agriculture and fisheries agreement because, variously, of torture in PA prisons in the West Bank or Hamas approved rockets in Gaza?
“Too complex” is an argument used by politicians to vindicate a “do nothing” policy. This does not lead to security, peace, or justice for all or any involved. Israel has not admitted that the people of the Occupied Palestinian Territory have the right to proclaim their own sovereign state in the way that Israel did in 1948, and that the Palestinian state covers the whole of the OPT until such time as any territorial swaps are agreed by the parties through negotiations at arms’ length.
Israel has never negotiated with the Palestinians in good faith, but has relied on “might is right” to pillage their land rather than seeking to reach an agreement based on the rights of the parties in international law. In any case, a decision not to upgrade Israel’s trade privileges with the EU is not a decision to boycott or sanction.
(4) The EU has rightly committed to expand trade with all countries and partners in the region. Greater prosperity and more jobs will help the transition to democracy and peace. The ACAA agreement with Israel is a blueprint for future similar ones. It would be very unhelpful for partners making tough efforts to meet EU standards if MEPs signalled they were prepared to make capricious political decisions at any time which would throw all those efforts on the scrapheap.
Accountability and the rule of law will help the transition to democracy and peace. “Capricious political decisions?” The moral courage to insist that collective punishment of civilians, disproportionate military aggression, forced transfer of ethnic minorities, house demolitions by an occupying power – should such behaviour be rewarded by a beneficial trade agreement? How can the Lib Dems stand up for human rights, the rule of law and internationalism if a decision not to indulge bad behaviour by a rogue state is deemed to be “capricious”?