Civil Society Demands the Suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement

Respect for human rights is an essential element of the EU’s association agreements with partner countries. Article 2 states that “relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.” Violation of the so-called “essential elements” clauses allows the EU to denounce or suspend the agreements in whole or in part under Article 60 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. In the light of the deaths and suffering endured by the Palestinian people, the European Union has the duty and the means to act to prevent Israel’s crimes in Gaza and to reduce the extent of human suffering.

Dear Madams/Sirs,

The undersigned organisations call on the EU to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement in light of the violation of human rights by the State of Israel. These human rights violations constitute a violation of the “essential elements” clauses, which state that the Agreement is conditional upon the parties’ respect for human rights and democratic principles. We unequivocally condemn all violations of international law, in particular, the killing of civilians, and we call on the relevant authorities to investigate them without delay.

Israel’s current war on Gaza is causing massive civilian casualties, extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure, and the displacement of the overwhelming majority of the population in Gaza. The health system in Gaza has collapsed, hospitals have been bombed and destroyed, health staff killed. The population of Gaza is at imminent risk of famine and death by contagious disease. This is the result of the bombardment of Gaza and blockage by Israel of food, water, fuel, medicines, humanitarian aid, as well as the disruption of the sewage system. These are clear, well-documented violations of the human rights of Palestinians.

Human rights abuses by the Israel government did not start in 2023, however. The United Nations Human Rights Council has concluded that, prior to this period, grave human rights abuses have been committed. The establishment and expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank are among these human rights violations, leading to, among others, the expropriation of private land owned by Palestinians, racial segregation due to the forced eviction of Palestinians and the demolition of their property, a climate of impunity for perpetrators of settler violence, including the involvement of Israeli security forces in such violence, and restrictions of freedom of movement for Palestinians. The European Council expressed its concerns over the blockade of the Gaza Strip (prior to October 2023) and called on military operations to be proportionate, in line with international humanitarian law, and for Israel to ease restrictions in the Gaza Strip.

The EU considers respect for human rights to constitute an essential element of EU association agreements with partner countries. The provisions of the EU-Israel Association Agreement state that the parties establish the association “considering the importance which the Parties attach…[ ] to the principles of the United Nations Charter, particularly the observance of human rights and democracy, which form the very basis of the Association;” … and Article 2 states that “relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.”

The violation of the so-called “essential elements” clauses enables the EU to terminate or suspend fully or partially the agreements, in accordance with Article 60 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Article 82 of the Association Agreement provides that “[e]ach of the Parties may denounce the Agreement by notifying the other Party.”

In spite of the above-mentioned, and other well-documented violations of human rights and democratic principles by the State of Israel, its economy continues to enjoy privileged access to the EU market through the EU-Israel Association Agreement. Trade between the EU and Israel has increased substantially since the signing of the agreement in 2000. The EU is Israel’s biggest trade partner, accounting for 28.8% of its trade in goods in 2022.

According to EU official policy outlined in the “Common Approach on the use of political clauses,” agreed by Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) in 2009, “serious breaches of the essential elements clauses may trigger the suspension in whole or part of the overall framework agreement and all the linked agreements, including the trade agreement (non-execution clause).” There can be no denying that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians constitutes, at the very least, a serious breach of the human rights clauses in the EU-Israel Association Agreement. It would appear that any political and human rights dialogue that the EU has held with Israel has not been effective in preventing these violations, war crimes, and other crimes against humanity.

On the 26th of January 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the at least some of the accusations by South Africa that Israel is committing genocide are plausible. The judges established that it is appropriate to investigate the evidence presented, accept the charges, and dismissed Israel’s call to reject the trial. The court ordered Israel to take measures to prevent a possible genocide in progress that include allowing more humanitarian aid into Gaza and acting against those who issue genocidal statements. Though the final verdict is yet unknown, the fact that the ICJ considered South Africa’s claims as ‘plausible’ and has issued provisional measures against Israel should raise serious alarm bells in the EU. Regardless of the final ruling of the ICJ, the provisional ruling has direct implications for third-party states to the Genocide Convention to employ all lawful means at their disposal to influence Israel to refrain from acts in breach of the Genocide Convention, including the withholding, reduction, or suspension of any and all forms of assistance, or the suspension or review of trade negotiations and agreements.”

What is currently happening in Gaza is the consequence of a political and moral failure of the international community. Suspension of the Association Agreement over the violation of the Agreement’s human rights clauses would send a strong message that the EU’s commitment to human rights is more than just rhetoric.

We urge you to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement without delay.

Addressed to:

President Ursula von der Leyen, Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission Mr Charles Michel, President of the European Council Ms Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Presidency of the Council of the European Union Mr Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

For complete list of signatories, see website.