Jerusalem Report: Europe's Responsibility
MORE than 40 organisations, including War on Want, European Jews for Just Peace, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Jewish Socialists' Group, have protested the European Union (EU) foreign ministers' decision to shelve a report on Israeli annexation measures around Jerusalem.
European Jews for Just Peace says that by burying their heads in the sand European ministers are taking co-responsibility for what Israel is doing to residents of East Jerusalem. To counter suppression of the report the organisations have sent it to MPs and the media and will publish it on their own websites.
The EU report, drawn up during Britain's presidency of the EU by British diplomats in Ramallah and East Jerusalem, warned that Israel was forestalling future peace negotiations, by turning its illegal annexation of Arab East Jerusalem into a fact, by making it near impossible for Arab citizens to obtain building and work permits; cutting the city off from the rest of the occupied territories with its so-called "security" wall; and slicing the Palestinian West Bank in two by expanding the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement.
Charging the Israeli government with violation of the internationally agreed "road map" for peace and of international law, the mission report urged the EU and European governments to take steps to counteract this, such as holding meetings with the Palestinian Authority in East Jerusalem.
Details of the report were leaked and publicised by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), which opposes the Israeli government's use of demolitions for "collective punishment" of Palestinians and, in combination with restriction of permits, as a way to drive people out of areas, in a form of "ethnic cleansing".
Dan Judelson of the European Jews for Just Peace(EJJP) wrote to the EU president Manuel Barroso on December 8, expressing concern that the EU was not publishing and acting on its report. "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."
Despite this, on December 12 the EU Foreign Ministers decided to shelve the report at the urgeing of foreign policy chief Javier Solana and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who said " The political landscape has altered within Israel - there is a general election in a few months time,." Like Shimon Peres, the Blair government is getting behind Ariel Sharon. New Labour has put paid to any old ideas about British traditions of "sympathy for the underdog"
As for "changing landscapes", the day after the ministers' decision the Israeli government announced that 300 new homes would be built at the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement.
Palestinians too are due to hold elections, on January 25. The Islamic movement Hamas did well in recent local elections, gaining 70 per cent of the vote in Nablus, once a stronghold of secular Palestinian nationalism. To reinforce its self-claimed authority in East Jerusalem, the Israeli government has said it won't allow ballot boxes in the city because it objects to Hamas taking part. Nor will it allow east Jerusalem residents to vote by post as they did in previous elections under iterim Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.
Just to add to the impression that the EU is backing this bullying, it has threatened to withold funds from the Palestinian authority if Hamas is allowed to participate. By contrast, we might note that a poll published on December 21 showed 50 per cent of Israelis would favour peace negotiations with Hamas, despite its association with terror bombings and supposed aim to destroy the Zionist state.
"This shows an Israeli awareness of what is going on in the Palestinian public, that Hamas is serious about its intention to play a role in Palestinian politics," said Ya'acov Shamir of the Hebrew University, who conducted the survey. "We cannot prevent this, and the public understands that."
We might expect European diplomats to understand it too; and to realise that whereas giving people a chance to take part in free elections and be recognised as equals encourages a reasonable willingness to compromise, treating them as colonial subjects who cannot be trusted to decide for themselves only pushes people, particularly the militant young, towards despair and ever more violence.
Should Europe be held responsible for assisting peace in the Middle East, and giving the Palestinian people reasons for hope, as well as material help? Yes, history makes it responsible. Without the British Balfour Declaration (made both to counter Jewish support for the Russian revolution and ease Britain's way to the Palestine.Mandate), there would be no "Jewish National Home". And without what happened to Jews in Europe (as well as America's closed doors to refugees) there would have been no massive move by Jews to settle there.
The UN sought to remove the problem by voting for partition of Palestine. As Afif Safieh said, Palestinians became "Hitler's last victims". In the 1950s, the German Federal Republic acknowledged its share of responsibility by the reparations agreement with Israel (under-written by the United States, and weakening opposition to German re-armamemt, as well as providing German industry with a safe market). It is only right now to recognise a debt to the Palestinians.
It is also one way in which Europe can assert its independence from an arrogant US policy, and possibly compel some more constructive thinking in Washington. If European Union Foreign Ministers have the will, that is. They could do well to consider that when Turkey obtains EU membership, the Middle East will be a closer neighbour than it is now. With freedom and the chance to rebuild and develop, it could be a good neighbour to have.
They should have listened to their missions in Palestine, published their report and acted on it. By suppressing it these supposedly "responsible" ministers are behaving irresponsibly, while the non-governmental organisations and peace campaigners are acting responsibly, for truth, peace and justice. By publishing the report they are exposing the fact that governments which don't trust us with information are themselves not to be trusted with anything.
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