Successful seminar: Differentiating between Israel and the Illegal Settlements?

From left: Lovatt, Jensehaugen and Skogvold at panel debate. Photo: Julie Offerdal/ NPA

In collaboration with the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and Fagforbundet, NCHS has succesfully hosted on June 8th the seminar Differentiating Between Israel and the Illegal SettlementsLooking at EU and Norwegian relations towards Israel, the seminar addressed the issue of differentiation between Israel and the occupied territories on Palestinian land. Discussions revolved around the question on how to move Israelis towards a decision that can lead to de-occupation and foster peace. The event welcomed ECFR’s Policy Fellow Hugh Lovatt as keynote speaker, and featured comments from Jørgen Jensehaugen (HiL) and Ingvild Skogvold (NPA).

Why differentiation?

Lovatt, who is the co-author of the policy paper EU Differentiation and Israeli settlements​, argued that the EU has at its disposal a very effective – yet under-used – tool able to challenge the set of calculations that underpin the Israeli public’s support for the status quo.  This tool is based on the EU’s legal obligation of non-recognition towards Israeli settlements. Irrespective of where the territory is, the EU has a legal obligation to not recognize an illegal annexation and to not assist in policies which violate international law when a territory is under occupation. Differentiation allows for the EU and Israel to continue deepening their ties, while excluding the illegal aspects of Israel’s occupation from tainting those relations. This is the minimum that the EU should be doing, Lovatt argued. Differentiation also help ensure that EU-Israel relations don’t undermine the EU’s own policy object of promoting a two state solution, by ensuring its ties do not further illegal activities and settlement expansion. Lovatt also noted that, given the non-existent prospects for initiating a meaningful peace process any time soon, it is increasingly difficult for the EU to justify slowing down the implementation of this principle in order to not “rock the diplomatic boat”. Similarly, as differentiation affects the socio-economic fabric of Israel through impacts on banks, infrastructure, businesses and policies, it takes very little before differentiation starts to influence important aspects of Israel’s relation with the EU. As a result, Israeli calculations towards continuing the occupation are reflected upon, and  Israelis are increasingly confronted with either deepening ties with Europe, or keeping hold of the settlements. Notwithstanding, Lovatt recalled that it is important that the EU does a better job explaining what it is doing, and why in order to push back against Israeli attempts to discredit, slander, and intimidate. He also suggested this example should  be followed by other regional groups such as Mercosur, international organizations, sports bodies such as FIFA, among others.

The comments by Jensehaugen and Skogvold have endorsed many of Lovatt’s observations on the appropriateness of differentiation. Jensehaugen contended that differentiation is a good start, but has happened too late, arguing that the EU needs to act faster and more comprehensively to ensure that that Israeli settlements in no way benefit from EU-Israel bilateral relations. Placing differentiation within a Norwegian context, Skogvold highlighted that Norway has a legal obligation to ensure that Israeli settlements are not recognized in the context of Norwegian-Israeli relations. However, it was noted that there hasn’t been a comprehensive and documented Norwegian policy of differentiation. Norway has thus lagged behind compared to the EU and other EU member states. Accordingly, Skogvold has advocated for the importance of raising further awareness on the issue in Norway.

Copies of the report Farlige Forbindelser II: Norske Bånd til den Israelske Okkupasjonen (Dangerous Liasons II: Norwegian ties to the Israeli Occupation), which were distributed during the seminar, are now also available in English and can be found electronically here.