The European Union has twisted Israel’s arm and hit the country where it hurts most: The Economy! The EU made it official and permanent that it will exclude West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements from its free trade agreements with the state of Israel. By doing so, the EU recognizes the settlements’ illegal status and highlights Israel’s role as occupier of those areas. If Israel wants the money and the free trade deals, it has to agree to those terms as well.
The decision was made strategically and unapologetically highlighting the EU’s dissatisfaction with how the current government of Israel is dealing with the decades-old Palestinian conflict. Although the EU announcement was expected and many analysts had warned of its imminent arrival, Israeli politicians were still shocked that it has come to this. Many went on a frenzy of usual cliché statements that have worked in the past; not this time. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the EU position saying, “We won’t allow any foreign dictates about our borders.” There was no known reply to his defiant statement except the echo of his own voice and disarray within his country as to the best way forward with the peace process.
Then the European Union declared the military wing of Hezbollah, a terror group. The message in there is clear and the nuance should not be missed, unlike the twist some Spin Doctors put on it that the EU has recognized Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Not quite. The EU differentiated between Hezbollah and its military wing. In the diplomatic world, this distinction is not a coincidence; it is of prime importance: The EU is sending a message to Hezbollah and its supporters, including the Lebanese government, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and Iran. This is a unique opportunity, perhaps the first of its kind and might be the only opportunity Hezbollah will ever have to join the international community by dropping its weapons and becoming active in a non-military way. Now that Hezbollah is an integral part of Lebanon’s government and main player in its political scene, it has the chance to re-invent itself through legal participation whereas its military activity (now labeled terrorism by the U.S. and the EU) will not lead it but to further isolation.
Hezbollah’s Secretary General has chosen his path a long time ago and he is too involved to make a change at this juncture. What the EU pressure will likely do, is cause a fundamental fissure within the group itself or widen the fissure of disagreement that has existed for a long time; such as serving the Iranian agenda and now the Assad agenda as well as turning weapons against their own people and now the Syrian people under the pretext they are fighting “traitors” and “terrorists.”
It took the European Union a long time to show that it means business in Middle East peace and play the “honest broker” role that the U.S. has always dreamed of playing but will never be able to.
There is no guarantee that the EU won’t cave to pressure of lobby groups or drop the “military wing” distinction if Hezbollah-led attacks continued across its borders.
History has shown time and again that those against peace in the Middle East are more vocal, more violent and more lethal. Respect for anyone who still works in the direction of peace despite all threats and challenges.