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Saga of settlements
File - A Palestinian boy sits in the yard of his house, back-dropped by an Israeli housing development, Har Homa, in east Jerusalem, Sept. 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
File - A Palestinian boy sits in the yard of his house, back-dropped by an Israeli housing development, Har Homa, in east Jerusalem, Sept. 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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The differences between American and European policies on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are often remarked on by analysts and politicians, who naturally give the Europeans better marks. But the EU’s decision this week to ask Israel to refrain from announcing any new settlement construction in the West Bank, in order to boost the comatose peace process, shows how such European-American differences are largely irrelevant.

The Europeans are threatening the Israelis with sanctions against settlements if the current peace “drive” fails. The EU stance symbolizes what is wrong with all of the peace efforts being pursued by Western states.

The settlements are, by definition, illegal. They are being built on occupied Palestinian land, taken by Israel in a war of aggression in 1967. They shouldn’t have been allowed to appear in the first place, and the international community’s leniency is entirely to blame. Instead of throwing money and all sorts of other favors at Israel over the last few decades, politicians and officials from Europe and the U.S. should have spent their time adhering to international law, and opposing the kind of policies that they denounce in so many other countries. As if all of this weren’t enough, the latest EU statements also leave people wondering whether the Europeans are against settlement construction, or merely the announcement of settlement construction.

One of the “threats” being made by European officials is that goods that are made or produced in the Israeli settlements will be clearly marked as such if they are sent to EU countries. It’s a tragi-comic situation. Such goods are illegal to begin with, because they were produced illegally, on illegally seized territory, and shouldn’t be imported, label or no label.

European statements and policies have often been justified because Europe, and specifically Germany, wishes to overcome its historical guilt complex when it comes to Israel. But the constant invocation of the persecution of the Jewish people only plays into the hands of people who want to distort who is victimizing whom today. The millions of Jews who died in the Holocaust perished at the hands of Europeans, not Palestinians. If Europeans want to assuage their guilt they should start at home, and not at the expense of homes belonging to the original inhabitants of Palestine.

The Israelis are allowed to routinely violate international law on many fronts: Seizing territory by force, carrying out mass detention and other types of collective punishment, using globally banned weapons and munitions, and committing extrajudicial execution are just several of the practices that come to mind.

When it comes to EU policies on Israel, and the threat to punish Israel over settlements, the credibility gap is as big in Brussels as it is in Washington.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 19, 2013, on page 7.
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