Friday, December 16, 2005

EU shelves report -and respect

A report drawn up for the European Union (EU), by British diplomats working from Jerusalem, dealt with a controversial issue that has been common knowledge to Israelis and Palestinians, and anyone familiar with the country, for some time, namely, the "clear Israeli intention to turn the annexation of East Jerusalem into a concrete fact".

The document, which was leaked to the media last month, noted inter alia:
the near-completion of the barrier around east Jerusalem, far from the Green Line;the construction and expansion of illegal settlements, by private entities and the Israeli government, in and around East Jerusalem; the demolition of Palestinian homes built without permits (which are all but unobtainable); stricter enforcement of rules separating Palestinians resident in East Jerusalem from those resident in the West Bank, including a reduction of working permits; and discriminatory taxation, expenditure and building permit policy by the Jerusalem municipality.

It went on to observe that: The plan to expand the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim into the so-called "E1" area, east of Jerusalem, threatens to complete the encircling of the city by Jewish settlements, dividing the West Bank into two separate geographical areas.

When the barrier has been completed, Israel will control access to and from East Jerusalem, cutting off its Palestinian satellite cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, and the rest of the West Bank beyond. This will have serious economic, social and humanitarian consequences for the Palestinians.

The report for the EU did not just complain. but made some proposals as to what European governments and the EU could do about it, including helping the Palestinian Authority(PA) to gain recognition:

Request the Israeli Government to halt discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, especially concerning working permits, building permits, house demolitions, taxation and expenditure.
The EU might consider and assess the implications and feasibility of excluding East Jerusalem from certain EU/Israel co-operation activities.
On an operational level:
Organise political meetings with the PA in East Jerusalem, including meetings at ministerial level.

In the past Palestinians have appreciated the presence of British diplomatic representatives in East Jerusalem willing to keep an ear to the ground and an eye on what's happening to people under occupation. This report was welcomed not only by Palestinians but by Israeli peace campaigners, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions(ICAHD). European Jews for Just Peace (EJJP) also welcomed it but expressed concern that the EU was reportedly suppressing or delaying its own report.

In a letter to EU president Manuel Barroso on December 8, EJJP spokesperson Dan Judelson wrote:

What is so perplexing is that the report makes explicit the deliberate policy of Israel and its profoundly iniquitous treatment of non Jewish residents of East Jerusalem. Israel seeks delay in which to establish, build and expand "facts on the ground" – illegal de facto annexation of land - and in this instance, the EU is providing it.

This is not some dry abstract land gain. Israel’s actions – as Ariel Sharon’s comments when signing the contract for the passenger transit system referred to above make explicit – are designed to "build, expand and strengthen [Jerusalem] as the eternal capital of the Jews and the unified capital of the state of Israel".

This would put a final status agreement on Jerusalem beyond the boundaries of what is possible. The establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian State would be unachievable. A two state solution would be out of the question.

Dan Judelson's letter concluded with a warning:
We believe that firm, timely and honest action by the European Union on this issue is required. Inaction raises questions of credibility. Without action, the conflict will intensify, not dissipate. Lives – more lives – will be lost.

So what have the EU ministers done?
A controversial report that accuses Israel of rushing to annexe Arab areas of East Jerusalem was shelved by European foreign ministers in Brussels yesterday out of sensitivity to Israel. Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, persuaded ministers to drop the report when he warned that Europe's influence over Israel would be severely undermined if it were to be published. The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, whose diplomats in East Jerusalem drafted the report as part of Britain's EU presidency, announced the climbdown at a meeting of EU foreign ministers. "The political landscape has altered within Israel - there is a general election in a few months time," he said of Ariel Sharon's decision to form a new political party ahead of elections on March 28. "So we thought it was appropriate not to endorse or to publish the document, but instead to continue to make representations about our concerns in the normal way."
Tuesday December 13, 2005_The Guardian_ (

The question people are asking now is what evidence there is that "Europe's influence", or representations made "in the normal way", have any effect on the Israeli government's policies, or achieve anything for the rights of the Palestinians?

We might note that New Labour's Jack Straw is far more solicitous for Ariel Sharon's chances than for Amir Peretz, the new leader of Israeli Labour Party, who is being discouraged from hopes of winning, let alone attempting to bring a real change in Israeli policy such as might advance his supporters' aspirations.

But that's by the way.
More important, East Jerusalem, illegally annexed by Israel, is not an internal Israeli matter, any more than are the other occupied territories. Palestinians also have elections coming before the end of January. Fatah, divided now between old established figures and new leaders, is facing a challenge from Hamas. Will EU and British readiness to bend over and appease Israeli expansion encourage Palestinians to place their faith in democratic and diplomatic strategies, or make them turn to more extreme means in desparation?

I'm not a diplomat but ...We''ll just have to hope people don't respond to the EU's betrayal in the obvious way. Or, as the EJJP warned, more lives will be lost.
As for European Union and British standing in the Middle East, whatever respect might have been painstakingly earned by representatives in the field has been thrown away by Jack Straw and Javier Solana in no time. Doesn't it make you proud? Twenty years ago, when I was on a visit to Bedouin in the Negev, an old man asked me not to take offence, "but your British government is our greatest misfortune". I assured him that I wasn't offended, that it was our greatest misfortune too. We laughed and shook hands. Mrs.Thatcher was in government then. I didn't think she'd last. Little did we know she'd leave her Straw.

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At 9:18 AM, Blogger DesertPeace said...

Interesting points ... go see what I wrote on Holocaust Denial... I allude to those points as well..


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