Miliband pressed on Israel trade agreement

By staff writers
June 15, 2009

As European ministers meet in Brussels on proposals to upgrade political and trade links with Israel, The British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband faces pressure to call for the suspension of an agreement which gives Israel preferential trade deals with the European Union.

The pressure comes from the anti-poverty charity War on Want, which says Israel’s continuing aggression and human rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank disqualifies it from trading preferences granted under the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

European foreign ministers will hold talks with far-right Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman to discuss the possible upgrading of EU-Israel relations.

Yasmin Khan, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: “The intensification of Israel’s aggression and its increased human rights abuses against Palestinians mean that any upgrade of EU-Israel relations is unacceptable. As the people of Gaza enter the third year of a devastating Israeli blockade, the EU-Israel Association Agreement must be suspended immediately until Israel complies with human rights law.”

The meeting with Lieberman will take place during a gathering of the EU-Israeli Association Council in Brussels today (15 June) and tomorrow Tuesday (16 June).

The talks coincide with the second anniversary of the start of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and come five months after the Israeli assault on Gaza which left over 1,400 Palestinian dead, including hundreds of children.

But they also follow Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s endorsement - for the first time - of the creation of a Palestinian state, provided it is demilitarised. The endosrement comes after weeks of pressure from Washington and the White House called his speech "an important step forward."

War on Want argues Israel’s human rights abuses have worsened since the EU began the process to upgrade relations with Israel last June.

It says the Gaza blockade has been tightened, with vital commodities denied entry and people forced to live like prisoners and that the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank has accelerated. They also point out that the number of illegal checkpoints has increased from 602 last June to 632 in March.

In December, the EU council said any upgrade “must be based on the shared values of both parties, particularly on democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedom, good governance and international humanitarian law.”

War on Want is calling on Miliband to confirm the suspension of the upgrade, demand an immediate end to the Gaza blockade and suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement until Israel observes international humanitarian law and human rights.

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