Thursday, May 14, 2015

Are property speculators bankrolling European Friends of Israel?

An investor in "distressed" Spanish real estate is among the wealthy supporters of the most prominent Israel lobby group in Brussels.

Dan Meyer, founder of the firm REInvest Capital, is a board member with European Friends of Israel (EFI), according to papers filed recently with the Belgian authorities.

For the past few years, REInvest has been trying to turn Spain's economic woes to its advantage. The firm's website says it is focused on "distressed Spanish opportunities", particularly in "prime city center" locations and on the coast.

Meyer, who previously worked for the banking titan Goldman Sachs, has more than two decades experience in the real estate market. His firm claims to have invested in property worth around €11 billion ($12.3 billion) since the mid-1990s.

He was one of several business people to sit on the EFI board last year.

Another was Davina Bruckner, chairperson of the Luxembourg-based firm Eastbridge and with Belgium's largest insurer Ageas.

Eastbridge has gone from importing branded consumer goods like Nestlé and L'Oreal into central and Eastern Europe during the late 1980s and early 1990s to snapping up skyscrapers in Manhattan. In 2011, it bought 70 Pine Street, formerly the American International Building, in New York's financial district.

Reportedly managing more than €1.5 billion ($1.7 billion) in assets, Eastbridge has strong connections to EFI. Davina's father Yaron Bruckner, who set up Eastbridge and remained active in it until his death in August 2013, was one of EFI's founders.

Marc Grosman, owner of the men's clothing retailer Celio, has also been a board member of Eastbridge. Grosman, too, sat on the EFI board last year.


On several occassions, I have asked EFI for details about who finances its activities. While the group has always refused to divulge those details, there are good reasons to believe that it relies on its board members for a significant proportion of its funding. Papers lodged with the Belgian authorities indicate that its board members pay annual subscriptions of up to €5 million ($5.7 million).

EFI's influence could be seen in the European Parliament's official response to Israel's attack on Gaza last summer.

In July 2014, the parliament approved a resolution which essentially copied and pasted talking points provided by EFI. That motion referred to a "ceasefire plan" that was "so far only accepted by Israel."

Not only did the parliament lend credence to the fallacy that Israel coveted peace, it neglected to mention that Hamas had not even been consulted about the "truce" offer in question.

Lately, EFI has been promoting fundraising appeals for the Israeli military, despite how it stands accused of committing war crimes.

EFI seems to have disappeared from a register of lobbyists administered by the European Commission. Although groups seeking to shape EU policies are not legally obliged to sign up to that register, they are required to do so if they want access badges for the European Parliament.

EFI did not reply when I asked why it can no longer be found in the register. The group had registered for 2014 and was required to update its details by the end of April this year. Its previous entries to the register have been skimpy. For example, the group reported that its overall budget for 2012 came to €400,000 ($453,000), all of which came from donations.

No scruples

As well as its management board, EFI has a political board, comprised of a cross-party alliance in the European Parliament.

Before last year's election to the Parliament, that board was chaired by a Polish politician Marek Siwiec. A biographical note posted on Siwiec's Facebook page indicate that he is now the EFI's president, even though he no longer has a seat in the European Parliament.

He has continued to visit the parliament's headquarters and can be seen in a program filmed there by Revelation TV, a pro-Israel channel, in December last.

I contacted Siwiec asking him if he is indeed EFI's president and if he is receiving money from the organization or its supporters. He did not reply.

Siwiec has combined being an elected representative with working as a corporate lobbyist. During his decade in the European Parliament, he found time to advise Yalta European Strategy.

Run by one of Ukraine's richest men, Viktor Pinchuk, YES has been pushing for closer bonds between Ukraine and the EU. The stronger trading links advocated by YES would almost certainly benefit Pinchuk directly. As Siwiec was active on foreign policy issues in the European Parliament, his involvement with YES was surely a conflict of interests.

I doubt that caused him too many pangs of conscience, however. Supporters of war crimes do not tend to have scruples. With public opinion increasingly critical of Israel, their future depends on groveling to the rich and powerful.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 13 May 2015.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Head of new pro-Israel group makes series of racist comments

A leading pro-Israel lobbyist in Brussels has made a series of racist comments about Muslims.

Alex Benjamin has been the director with both European Friends of Israel (EFI) and the newly-formed Europe Israel Public Affairs (EIPA) over the past six months. While speaking on behalf of each of those organizations, he has displayed an anti-Islam bias.

In December last year, Benjamin contended that one explanation for the willingess of some EU governments to recognize Palestine as a state was that "the demographics in Europe are changing."

"There is huge populations of Muslims in France, in Germany, all over the place," he says. "And politicians are finding, rightly or wrongly, that in order to get their votes they have to pander to certain stereotypes."

Those remarks were delivered during a program broadcast by Revelation TV, a channel identifying itself as Christian. Benjamin appeared on the same show in late February, by which time he had taken up his post with EIPA.

During that second appearance, he again infers that Muslims should be perceived as a hostile presence in Europe.

"Hornets' nest"

In a discussion prompted by the killing of a Jewish security guard at a bar mitzvah in Copenhagen earlier that month, Benjamin implies that Muslims in general are to blame for anti-Semitic crimes.

"I see anti-Semitism and the rise of fundamental Islam and the changing demographics in Europe as inexticably linked. It's a bit -- if I could use a rather crude analogy -- it's a bit like having a hornets' nest at the end of your garden."

He argues that the rise in anti-Semitism he perceives "can't just be because of Israeli actions." Then he says: "There's something more fundamental behind it. And it's not a very pleasant thing to do but sometimes you need to lift up the carpet and look at the horrible things underneath it."

Referring to new security measures taken in EU buildings following the January attacks on the French satiricial magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris, he says:

I use the analogy deliberately about the hornets' nest at the end of the garden and I would say that either you protect your house and you stop the hornets from flying in -- like we have outside the [European] Commission; like we have outside the [European] Parliament. That is a short-term solution. The hornets are still going to be there. So do you go down to the end of the garden and you try to deal with the nest or do you just try and protect yourself in the house and say "well listen, I'm too scared to go down there, I might get stung. I don't know what's going to happen. All I can do is stop them from getting in the house."

Inciting hatred

Comparing Muslims to hornets closely resembles the terminology by influential Israeli politicians when inciting hatred against Palestinians.

The late Rafael Eitan, who served as both chief of staff in the Israeli military and as a minister in several governments, once called Palestinians "drugged cockroaches in a bottle." Ayelet Shaked, Israel's new justice minister, has described Palestinian children as "little snakes."

Benjamin's repeated references to population issues also echoes how the Israeli elite considers Palestinian babies as a "demographic threat."

Arnon Soffer, an academic who has undertaken research for the Israeli military, said in 2004 that once Gaza's population reached 2.5 million "those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam." Soffer's recommendation for Israel was to "kill and kill and kill. All day, every day."

I contacted Benjamin on Thursday, asking him to clarify some of his comments. He did not reply to my email messages. When I phoned the EIPA office, I was told that he was away from Brussels.

Before he became a full-time Israel lobbyist, Benjamin worked as a press officer for British Conservative members of the European Parliament. His résumé includes, too, a stint as communications director with the Ulster Unionist Party in Belfast.

EIPA is one of several lobby groups trying to promote a positive image of Israel. In an attempt to distract from the crimes committed against the Palestinians, it has been using Facebook to highlight the aid which Israel provided to Nepal's earthquake victims and to celebrate innovations by Israeli scientists.

It is an offshoot of the similarly-named Europe Israel Press Association. Among the propaganda events that association has hosted was a talk given last year by Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli academic who has advocated that Israeli soldiers should rape Palestinian women.

Benjamin seems to be settling in nicely to his job. His racist remarks are perfectly in sync with the Israel lobby's toxic worldview.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 8 May 2015.

Why I helped "shut down" Europe's weapons lobby

Today, I took part in the "shutting down" of a lobby group representing some of the world's top weapons exporters.

At lunch-time more than a dozen of us entered the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) headquarters in Brussels, announcing that we were taking it over. We distributed letters of dismissal to its staff, covered its reception area in white sheets and posted notices saying "arms dealers evicted."

Our action drew a hostile response from Kyle Martin, an ASD manager. He began scrunching up our papers and tearing down our notices, telling us that we were trespassing on private property.

His attachment to private property is a little bizarre, given that the ASD wants the arms industry to be heavily subsidized from the public purse. A recent ASD paper on weapons innovation states that "100 percent funding to [the arms] industry should be considered the norm."

ASD includes five of the planet's fifteen leading arms companies: BAE Systems, Airbus, Thales, Finmeccanica and Rolls-Royce. All of these firms have major links to Israel.

Finmeccanica is supplying jet trainer aircraft to the Israeli military as part of a $1 billion deal. BAE Systems provides electronic equipment to the Israeli military.

Thales has teamed up with Israel's Elbit to make drones for the British army.

Airbus is developing an "early warning system" for warplanes along with Israel Aerospace Industries. And Rolls-Royce's engines can be found in many aircraft used by the Israeli military.

Benefits to Israel

ASD is also involved in lobbying activities which have proven beneficial for Israel's merchants of death.

For many years, ASD has been urging the EU to allocate a greater proportion of its scientific research program to military technology. In response, the Union has established a "security research" scheme.

Israel's weapons firms have been participating on an equal basis to European companies and institutions in that scheme ever since its inception. As a result, the manufacturers of drones used to kill children in Gaza and of surveillance equipment installed in Israel's wall in the occupied West Bank have benefited handsomely from European subsidies.

Our action at ASD's headquarters led to an impromptu "teach-in." I was asked to give a briefing about how the weapons industry has been influencing EU policy. Jan Pie, ASD's urbane and apparently unruffled secretary-general, listened to me, interrupting to claim that all of the Union's research activities are of a civilian nature.

That was a lie.

As I documented in my book Corporate Europe, ASD has been pushing the EU to bankroll research into technology with both civilian and military applications. The group has enjoyed considerable success; quite a few of the EU's science projects relate to drones, inherently military aircraft pioneered by Israel.

ASD is trying to promote drones as beneficial to Europe's economy. In March, Jan Pie predicted that drones could contribute to 150,000 "direct jobs" in 2050.

Not possessing a crystal ball, I have no way of gauging whether such forecasts will come to fruition. But even if they do, the strategy Pie wants Europe to pursue is at odds with the interests and desires of its people.


Gaza has been the world's main laboratory for drones in recent times. Do we really Europe's economic policies to be inspired by a cruel experiment against a besieged people?

The staff we met at ASD didn't want to admit they are causing harm in the real world. Kyle Martin tried to dismiss my complaints about how Saudi Arabia is the number one client for some of ASD's members as irrelevant. Saudi Arabia has, of course, been busy bombing Yemen lately with the aid of Western weapons.

ASD called the police. We refused to leave when the cops arrived, so they removed us from the building. The cops requested our identity cards and wrote down our names.

Several police cars turned up outside the building where ASD is based but we weren't taken into custody.

The arms lobbyists of Brussels are usually insulated from reality. Today was an exception.

We confronted them with the consequences of their pernicious activities.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 5 May 2015.

Friday, April 24, 2015

With Israel's help, EU seeks new ways of being cruel to refugees

European Union leaders have responded in a callous manner to the mass drowning of migrants in the Mediterranean.

Rather than investing in a system that would save lives and guarantee protection to people fleeing oppression and poverty, the EU's governments have put themselves on a war footing. Their proposals to attack boats used to transport asylum-seekers look eerily similar to what far-right parties and tabloid pundits have been advocating.

Such plans have not emerged out of nowhere. For some time, the EU has been discussing migration as if it is a military threat. One recurring theme is the possibility that drones could be deployed in border surveillance operations.

Israel's arms industry -- a top exporter of drones -- has participated in some of the key discussions.

In 2013, an EU "steering group" on "remotely piloted aircraft systems" -- a synonym for drones -- issued recommendations for how these warplanes can be increasingly flown in civilian airspace over a 15-year period. Frontex, the Union's border management agency, was identified as a likely user of drones.

The group's members included Unmanned Vehicle Systems - International, a trade association for drone-makers. Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries, the two main suppliers of drones repeatedly used to attack Gaza, are both represented on UVS - International.

"Great interest"

Last year UVS-International noted that Frontex has "manifested great interest" in drones. The interest has been so great that Frontex has explored deploying the Hermes-900 drone while tracking refugees.

Developed by Elbit, the Hermes-900 received what war analysts called its "combat debut" in Gaza last summer. Almost certainly, this cutting-edge weapon killed and seriously maimed civilians.

Another member of the EU's steering group was the European Association for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE).

Don't be fooled by the "civil aviation" part of its name. EUROCAE has an "active" committee dedicated to drones, which contributed to the EU steering group's work.

Israel Aerospace Industries -- "the largest government owned defense and aerospace company" in Israel, according to its website -- is part of EUROCAE's drone committee. Michael Allouche from Israel Aerospace Industries brags of being that committee's "airworthiness leader."

Are we supposed to find that reassuring?

Exception for Israel

As things stand, it is generally forbidden for drones to enter European civil airspace. Yet an exception has been made for Israel Aerospace Industries.

In April 2013, one of its drones, the Heron, flew over both a military base and civilian airspace in Spain during an EU-funded maritime surveillance exercise. That might have been something of a novelty for the Heron's operators, who are more accustomed to dropping bombs on Gaza.

Barack Obama expressed regret yesterday for how US drones killed two hostages of al-Qaeda in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year.

Some press reports inferred it is unusal for innocent people to die as a result of drones. That is bunkum.

The Bureau for Investigative Journalism has documented how as many as 962 civilians may have been killed by America's drones in Pakistan between 2004 and 2015.

The Obama administration gave its fulsome support to Israel's war crimes last summer. Defence for Children International - Palestine has just published the results of its research into those crimes. It found that 164 children were directly targeted and unlawfully killed in drone strikes.

Is there anything more obscene than the deliberate slaughter of children? I can think of one thing: the way arms companies exploit such slaughter for marketing purposes. Israel Aerospace Industries gloats of how its products were "proven in battle" last summer.

Most of Gaza's inhabitants are refugees, uprooted by the ethnic cleansing that led to Israel's foundation. Knowing full well that Israel has tested its drones on Palestinian refugees, the European Union is considering testing these drones on refugees from other parts of the world.

The arms industry and its lackeys constantly talk of innovation. What they really mean by this innovation is finding new ways of being cruel.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 24 April 2015.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Could massive EU-US trade deal be extended to Israel?

There are many reasons to oppose the planned Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

It is a designed to make capitalism the only permissible system in both the US and the European Union. It is being negotiated in a secretive and anti-democratic fashion. The groundwork for it has been laid by an unholy alliance of banks and the manufacturers of cigarettes, cars and chemicals.

And it may be extended to Israel.

Cecilia Malmström, the EU's trade commissioner, stated earlier this year that "other countries close to us could link into the agreement" after the contents of TTIP are finalized.

Israel enjoys an extremely close trading relationship with the EU. A deal approved by the European Parliament in 2012 paves the way for Israel to be integrated into the Union's single market for goods and services.

The idea that Israel would be eligible to join TTIP is being mulled over by the cognoscenti in both Brussels and Washington.

Boon for polluters

The Centre for European Policy Studies, an EU-funded "think tank", issued a paper last year which claimed that Israel was "keen to benefit from effective market access to TTIP." The paper suggested that the goal of the partnership to achieve a harmonized approach to setting regulations between the EU and the US would be of particular relevance to Israel's chemical exporters.

It is important to spell out what such "regulatory convergence" -- to use the frequently impenetrable jargon of trade negotiators -- would mean in practice. As things stand, the EU has more leeway than the US to take precautionary action against substances deemed hazardous towards human health or the environment. A core demand of the chemical industry is that the scope to take precautionary measures should be restricted.

If policy-makers capitulate to these demands, then TTIP will be a boon for polluters.

The elite appears to be taking a "not if but when" approach towards Israel's involvement in TTIP.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -- a deceptively-named outfit partly financed by the Pentagon -- recommends that close attention be paid to the order in which outside states are invited to join the "partnership." As Turkey has a customs union with the EU, it is considered logical by the denizens of think tank land that it should be integrated into TTIP.

Yet if Turkey is invited to join TTIP before Israel, then it may obstruct Israel's involvement, according to a Carnegie analysis.

Carnegie's urbane "experts" neglect to remind us that Israel launched an unprovoked attack against Turkey in 2010 when it murdered nine Turkish activists trying to break the siege of Gaza.

Chilling effect

The campaign group War on Want has voiced concerns over efforts by some members of the US Congress to make TTIP conditional on outlawing boycotts, divestment and sanctions aimed at Israel.

Whether or not those efforts succeed, it strikes me that TTIP could have a chilling effect on political activism.

The most contentious proposal on the a table in the TTIP talks relates to a dispute settlement mechanism. In effect, that would be a court system to which only corporations and their legal teams would have access. They would be able to sue public authorities over and demand financial compensation for laws or decisions perceived as barriers to trade.

A European government that bans the importation of goods from Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank could conceivably find itself being sued if Israel joins TTIP. Even if Israel does not join, public authorities could find themselves sued if they bar firms that abet Israeli apartheid -- such as Hewlett-Packard or G4S -- from applying for contracts.

I am not exaggerating. Clauses on dispute settlement in other free trade agreements have been invoked to challenge progressive measures by big business.

Veolia, the French behemoth known for building a tram network to serve Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, is contesting increases to Egypt's minimum wage. The tobacco maker Philip Morris is suing against anti-smoking initiatives in Uruguay and Australia. The fossil fuel industry is seeking to overturn Quebec's ban on the ecologically destructive practice of fracking.

TTIP is not a done deal. It has encountered stiff opposition in Europe. Ultimately, it could be defeated through large-scale public mobilization.

The elite's apparent willingness to extend TTIP to the apartheid of Israel state makes that mobilization all the more necessary.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 22 April 2015.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Top Israeli recipient of EU grants is based in occupied East Jerusalem

A college in occupied East Jerusalem is the top Israeli recipient of European Union science grants.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem took part in 237 projects under an EU multi-annual scientific research program, which ran from 2007 to 2013.

According to an internal EU document that I have seen, the university was the leading Israeli participant in the program.

EU officials have displayed a determination to continue aiding the university. After the Union published "guidelines" in 2013 stating that Israeli firms and institutions based in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank should not be given subsidies, its representatives promptly made clear that Hebrew University would not be affected.

A "frequently asked questions" paper issued by the EU's embassy in Tel Aviv contended that Hebrew University was not on occupied land, even though it has a campus in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The diplomats' argument rested on how Mount Scopus, where that campus can be found, was captured by Zionist forces in 1948, rather than 1967.


That reasoning is threadbare. Hebrew University has been encroaching into territory that Israel has been stealing since the start of its 1967 occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. In 1968, Israel ordered the confiscation of 3,345 dunums of Palestinian land in the environs of Mount Scopus (a dunum equals 1,000 square meters). Hebrew University has expanded into that land.

The EU's position ignores how a large part of Issawiyeh, a Palestinian village neighboring Mount Scopus, has been expropriated in order to host dormitories and other facilities for students at the Hebrew University.

By trying to make a distinction between the violence leading to Israel's establishment in 1948 and the 1967 occupation, the EU is pandering to those liberal Zionists who wish to obfuscate the full extent of Israel's crimes.

As Ilan Pappe documents in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, academics from Hebrew University helped prepare the ground for the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe), the forced uprooting of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. Ben-Zion Luria, an historian at the university, recommended that the Jewish National Fund compile an inventory of Palestinian villages. Doing so would "greatly help the redemption of the land," Luria wrote.

Pappe has demonstrated how this proposal gave "added impetus and zeal to the expulsion plans" implemented in 1948.

Supporting genocide

Hebrew University has kept on lending its support to Israel's acts of genocide.

When Israel attacked Gaza in the summer of 2014, the university undertook a fundraising drive so that soldiers taking part in the offensive could be offered scholarships.

Some of the EU-funded schemes involving Hebrew University are high profile. The Human Brain Project, for example, has been allocated €54 million ($57.5 million) in EU funding between 2013 and next year. (This is part of a larger initiative likely to receive €1 billion from the Brussels bureaucracy and EU governments).

This attempt to understand how the brain functions has drawn criticism from a group of neuroscientists for allegedly being too narrow in focus. Surely, however, the involvement of an Israeli institution which supports attacks in which the children of Gaza have literally had their brains blown out is a far more serious matter.

The EU's aforementioned guidelines were compiled as preparations for Horizon 2020, as the Union's new science program is called. Israel is taking part in an equal basis in this program to the EU's own member countries.


By only excluding entities that are actually based in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, the EU is glossing over institutions that abet the entire settlement enterprise.
Hebrew University is one such institution. Its staff have been known to sit on committees assessing planned appointments at Ariel University, which is located in the West Bank. Despite its cordial ties to that school for settlers, Hebrew University refuses to recognize degrees awarded by Al-Quds University, a Palestinian college in Jerusalem.

Top-level EU figures have displayed a fawning attitude towards Hebrew University. Receiving an honorary degree last year, the European Parliament's President Martin Schulz rhapsodized about that "exceptional moment in my life." Schulz used the conferring ceremony to oppose calls made by Palestinians for a boycott of Israel.

In so doing, the speaker of the EU's only directly-elected body proved he was more concerned with assuaging the oppressor than in upholding the rights of the oppressed. His stance was typical of how the Union supports Israeli apartheid, while claiming the opposite.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 14 April 2015.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Europe keeps on paying Israel's bills

One sordid example of Israel's impunity is that the EU keeps on picking up the tabs for the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Since Operation Cast Lead - Israel's assault on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009 - the EU has contributed around €540 million to the reconstruction effort. That sum comprised more than one-third of the total €1.3 billion that the Union has spent in Gaza during the past decade.

Israel attacked Gaza once again in the summer of 2014, killing more than 2,200 Palestinians. The schools and hospitals bombed by Israel had been funded by the EU. Yet despite how there is a moral imperative to hold Israel accountable for the destruction, the Union is instead contributing to the repair bill.

In one of her final engagements as the bloc's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton pledged in October 2014 that the EU would donate €450 million to rebuild Gaza - once again.

Foreign aid is big business. Consultants and policy wonks get paid handsomely by major donors to advise on how money ostensibly earmarked for alleviating poverty should be used.

A consortium of aid "experts" - led by the Rome-based firm Development Researchers Network - has been hired by the European Commission to evaluate its aid to Palestine. The consortium's report, published in July 2014, concluded that the EU "has not been willing or able" to address the "constraints" placed on its aid activities by the Israel.

It's not difficult to work out how the EU could start addressing those "constraints". Legal proceedings could be undertaken against Israel for bombing infrastructure financed by the European taxpayer. And economic sanctions could be introduced against Israel as a signal that its denial of Palestinian rights will no longer be tolerated. The consortium, however, did not recommend any bold action - just a few timid "reforms".

Under international law, an occupying power is obliged to meet the basic needs of the people under occupation. The EU's status as the largest donor to the West Bank and Gaza means that it is relieving Israel of its obligations.

Some of this aid is of direct help to the occupation. In 2012, the EU announced a €13 million "gift" of X-ray and computer equipment to Kerem Abu Shalem, the crossing for goods between Gaza and present-day Israel. That crossing is controlled by Israel, which has placed severe restrictions on imports to and exports from Gaza. By bestowing that gift, the EU became a junior partner for a medieval siege.

Such cooperation is inherently problematic. And it looks set to be expanded. The aid promised to Gaza in October 2014 will go through a UN "reconstruction mechanism". Israel has been given a veto on who can and cannot receive cement and other building material.

Meanwhile, the EU runs a €9 million-per-year "support mission" for the Palestinian Authority's police in the West Bank. A core objective of that "mission" is to boost cooperation between the Israeli and PA "security forces". Enforcement of the occupation is thereby being outsourced to the Palestinians themselves.

Bolstering the private sector in Palestine has been identified as a key priority for the EU's aid activities in 2015. Is it a coincidence that this priority chimes with that of Tony Blair? The European Union is, after all, one of the top donors to Blair's office in Jerusalem and part of the Middle East "quartet" that Blair represents.

In March 2014, Blair's office in Jerusalem published a blueprint for the corporate capture of Palestine. Titled The Initiative for a Palestinian Economy, it advocated that major firms be lured to the West Bank and Gaza by developing "special economic zones" and offering "financial incentives". "Special economic zones" are a fancy term for sweat-shops. "Financial incentives" mean exempting major companies from most, if not all, taxes.
Blair's blueprint was drawn up in consultation with about 100 Israeli and Palestinian business "leaders". Munib Masri, a billionaire from Nablus, is among those entrepreneurs enjoying cordial relations with Blair.

While ordinary Palestinians and their supporters worldwide are boycotting Israel, Masri has formed alliances with Israelis who benefit directly from the occupation. They include Rami Levy, who runs supermarkets in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, and Yossi Vardi, a technology guru who has relied largely on software engineers trained by the Israeli military.

There is something quite sinister going on here. Blair and the European Union are being guided by a wealthy Palestinian elite happy to cuddle up to the oppressor.

The EU has long been eager to promote cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians. EU-sponsored discussions about joint energy projects overlook Israel's record of exploiting the Palestinians' natural resources in a manner that violates international law.

I'm not arguing that the EU should stop all aid to the Palestinians. Funding cuts for healthcare and education would cause a marked increase in suffering among a people who have already suffered too much.

Rather, I'm calling for a modicum of honesty. The EU's representatives should quit portraying their aid efforts as noble and generous. They should admit that European taxpayers are paying bills that Israel is legally obliged to pay. And they should sue Israel for destroying EU-funded infrastructure.

Much of the EU's aid is clearly indefensible, however. Far from bringing the Palestinians closer to freedom, the Union is requiring the oppressor and the oppressed to pretend they are the best of buddies. Even worse, such aid is turning Palestine into a laboratory for a perverse experiment that marries capitalism and militarism.

By pandering to an elite that is already doing nicely from the status quo, the experiment serves to entrench injustice.

•First published by Palestine News, Winter 2015 issue.