EU's hardline on Israeli colonisation


A statement issued by the European foreign ministers ahead of the bloc’s weekend summit has already heralded a more pro-active policy on the Arab-Israeli dispute. They have undertaken measures to punish Israel for its colonisation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Norway has withdrawn investments from an Israeli firm operating in the West Bank. Britain has called for imports from Israel to be labelled as settlement produce if that is the case. Other countries are likely to follow suit.

The European Union (EU) has expressed serious concern about ‘the lack of progress’ in the West Asia peace process and called for the “urgent resumption of negotiations that will lead to a two state solution with Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable state of Palestine” living side by side in peace.

Thus, the EU defined the goal of negotiations in spite of Israeli objections, called for a firm deadline and put the bloc’s weight behind negotiations. While reaffirming support for US efforts to resume talks, the EU said discussions should include “all final status issues, including borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security and water” in spite of Israel’s refusal to discuss Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. Furthermore, the ministers asserted, “The European Union will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties.”

Balance

This is a key provision because it would ensure that the EU would not accept unilateral Israeli changes on the ground in the occupied territories unless these were agreed by the Palestinian side. This signifies EU rejection of an understanding reached between the Bush administration and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Israel would be allowed to annex major colonies built on or just east of the line separating Israel within its internationally accepted borders from the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Obama administration has indicated that it might go along with the Bush policy, thereby imposing an Israeli territorial fait accompli on the Palestinians. The EU pledge means such a policy will not have international support.

The EU expressed support for the Palestinian Authority’s effort to reform its administration and build state infrastructure ahead of proclaiming a state in 2011.
Although the EU considered Israel’s declaration of a settlement freeze “a step in the right direction”, it took a hard line on Israeli colonisation by asserting that “settlements, the separation barrier where built on occupied land, demolition of homes and evictions are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible”.

Finally, the ministers rejected Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and insistence that it is an integral part of Israel’s undivided eternal capital. The bloc was prodded to take a stand by a classified but leaked report drawn up by European diplomats based in East Jerusalem and Ramallah. They said that Israel was carrying out policies designed to change the demographic balance in occupied East Jerusalem and cut it off from its natural West Bank hinterland. The report also accused Israel of discrimination against Palestinians.

“Palestinians have received fewer than 200 building permits per year” although 1,500 housing units would be necessary to meet Palestinian housing needs. The report also showed that while 35 per cent of the population of Jerusalem is Palestinian, only 5-10 per cent of the city’s budget is spent in Palestinian areas. The report also accuses Israeli police of permitting settlers to attack Palestinians.

The EU has compelling reasons to take a stand. It is dependent on West Asia for 40 per cent of its oil and regards the region as its strategic backyard. Therefore, Europe does not want to encounter unending strife and instability in the region.

Consequently, a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace is a major EU interest. The election last month of an EU president and foreign minister, to replace rotating appointments, should provide for continuity in policy and encourage the bloc, which is the financial mainstay of the Palestinian Authority, to play an active role in peacemaking. This is essential because the Obama administration, on which the Arabs and Palestinians had placed great hopes, has been prevented from carrying out its own plan for peace by Israel, the US-pro-Israel lobby and Congress.

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