28 Jul 2020

Arming instability

EU-Israel arms trade and the EU Common Position

Dylan Macchiarini Crosson

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Arms transfers have implications for the Middle East Peace process and the EU’s preference for a two-state solution, but they only seem to grab headlines when tensions flare up and Israel adopts a more proactive security stance towards Palestinians and the status of the occupied territories.

The export of arms is a topic that bridges trade and the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and the EU is a major source of Israel’s arms imports and an important destination for its high-tech and highly integrated defence industry. The EU could therefore leverage its arms exports control regime as a dissuasive foreign policy tool or, at worst, in response to Israeli annexation, as requested by 11 EU member states.

But for the EU’s arms export control regime to become a permanent and reliable CFSP tool, member states must also show political courage and agree to update its legal framework.

This policy brief outlines how to increase the political and economic cost of the Israeli government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank, along with proposals for how to improve the EU’s arms export control regime.

Policy Recommendations

  1. If Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank move forward, EU member states must consider adopting restrictive measures against arms exports to Israel and arms procurement from Israel, along with the suspension of Horizon 2020 funding, a re-evaluation of the Association Agreement and EU-wide recognition of Palestinian statehood. Ideally, these should be EU-wide and agreed upon with partners in the international community.
  2. Beyond unambiguously defining what a clear breach or violation of the Common Position consists of, EU member states must adopt a conditionality-based approach through a series of changes to the criteria against which exports are judged on a case-by-case basis.
  3. Mandatory reporting provided for by the EU Common Position is still not sufficiently transparent and must be adjusted to better reflect the requests of the European Parliament and civil society.
  4. Loopholes should be closed in the EU Common Position, which currently give member states ample discretion to apply the criteria, leaving them vulnerable to divide and rule tactics by lobby groups and third countries. To improve unity in years to come and to ensure the enforceability of the Common Position, EU institutions must find ways of coordinating member states, investing in greater intelligence capabilities and plugging in where they can, such as on dual-use items. HRVP Borrell should also engage in constructive dialogue with member states and put arms exports and the Common Position on the agenda for the Commission Project Group on the Defence Union and Coherence Meetings.

This policy brief will also be published by Sine Qua Non.