JANSEN: ‘A major EU interest’ December 12, 2009


by Michael Jansen  -  The Jordan Times -  11 December 2009

Deliberations on a statement on Palestine at this week’s European Union gathering of foreign ministers followed a familiar pattern. The bloc’s current Swedish presidency presented a text approved by the Palestinians and Arabs, and Israel did its best to weaken the document.

However, the latest battle did not end the way the Israelis planned: the EU stood up to Israel by adopting the Swedish draft on most points. It is necessary to quote passages from the final statement here because the world’s media did not take the trouble to do so and, instead focusing on Israeli criticisms of the document, which the Israeli government quickly dismissed, after having spent a lot of time and energy trying to change the text.

The ministers expressed serious concern about “the lack of progress” in the regional peace process and called for the “urgent resumption of negotiations that will lead, within an agreed timeframe, to a two state solution with the state of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable state of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security”.

On this issue, the council adopted the Swedish text. This was a very important formulation because it defined the shape of a deal, called for a firm timetable for conclusion of negotiations and put the EU’s weight behind the negotiations.

The council reaffirmed support for US efforts to resume negotiations on “all final status issues, including borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security and water”, some of which Israel refuses to discuss. Then the council 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.”

This, too, was a key provision because it would ensure that the bloc would not accept any unilateral Israeli changes on the ground in the occupied territories unless these were accepted by the Palestinian side. Furthermore, the EU would, in effect, reject the understanding reached between the Bush administration and former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon that Israel would be allowed to annex major colonies straddling or built to the east of the old green line separating the Israel of 1948-49 from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Obama administration has indicated that it might go along with the Bush formulation, thereby imposing an Israeli territorial diktat on the Palestinians. The EU pledge means such a policy will not have international support.

The council reiterated its backing for “negotiations leading to Palestinian statehood, all efforts and steps to that end and its readiness, when appropriate to recognise a Palestinian state. The EU fully supports the implementation of the Palestinian Authority’s government plan “Palestine, ending the occupation” … and will work for enhanced international support for this plan”.

This commitment to recognise a Palestinian state suggests that the EU could do this even if such a state is declared unilaterally in 2011, as proposed by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad even if there is no negotiated settlement.

The EU considered Israel’s – in my view fraudulent – settlement freeze a “step in the right direction” and hoped it would promote negotiations. However, the council asserted “that settlements, the separation barrier were 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”. It, therefore, urged Israel to “immediately end all settlement activities, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and dismantle all outposts erected since March 2001”.

Israel was told to cease “provocative actions” in East Jerusalem,” reopen Palestinian institutions and end “discriminatory treatment of Palestinians” in the city.

The council flatly rejected Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.

“If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states.”

This formulation replaced the Swedish clause that proclaimed EU support for East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state and alarmed Israel. But the version adopted says the same thing in gentler language.

The council called on Israel to end the siege and blockade of Gaza and urged Hamas and Fateh to work towards reconciliation.

Ahead of this week’s meeting, the Swedish document was leaked to the Israeli daily Haaretz, exposing the Israeli government’s frantic efforts to prevent its adoption without amendments dictated by Israel. However, this leak coincided with the publication of a classified report drawn up by European representatives in East Jerusalem and Ramallah. The report, which may have steeled European ministerial resistance to manipulation, lambasted Israel for implementing policies designed to change the demographic balance in East Jerusalem and cut off this sector of the city from its natural West Bank hinterland.

The report said plainly that the Israeli government and municipality aid rightwing Jewish organisations colonising the Old City and adjacent neighbourhoods. The report described the extent of Israeli official discrimination against Palestinians.

“During the past years, Palestinians have received fewer than 200 building permits per year.”

If population growth is taken into account, “permits for another 1,500 housing units annually would be necessary to cover [Palestinian] housing needs”; Silwan, a particular target of Jewish colonists, has been granted only 20 building permits since 1967. More than 600 Palestinian houses and structures have been demolished since 2000, most built illegally because of Israel’s ban on permits.

The EU representatives complained that although 35 per cent of the population of Jerusalem is Palestinian, only 5-10 per cent of the city’s budget is spent in Palestinian neighbourhoods. As a result, these areas have poor roads and schools and inadequate garbage collection in comparison to “West Jerusalem neighbourhoods and East Jerusalem settlements where Israelis live”. Furthermore, the growth of Israeli colonies has lead to “settler violence against the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem… criminal actions have been witnessed by Israeli police but are not met with adequate intervention”.

The consuls recommend EU action to counter discrimination, including sending representatives to monitor Israeli demolitions of Palestinian houses, evictions of Palestinians and court cases involving Palestinians.

His Majesty King Abdullah, the Palestinian Authority, a slew of legislators from the British parliament and senior European figures backed the Swedish text. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did not personally intervene to ensure its adoption without Israeli amendments. Last week, he completed a major tour of Latin America and should have gone to Brussels instead of returning to the region. On Monday, when he should have been lobbying EU ministers, Abbas was in Beirut talking to Lebanon’s President Michel Sleiman about Palestinian refugees dwelling in slum camps in that country. Nothing new came of the discussions. Abbas can go to Lebanon to hold talks on this issue at any time.

Unfortunately, Abbas has put all the Palestinian eggs in the US basket and has received nothing in return. It is about time that he shifted his focus to the EU, which is, after all, Israel’s largest trading partner, and is in a strong position to put pressure on Israel to comply with the demands of the international community by ending the occupation and permitting an independent Palestinian state to emerge in the 22 per cent of the country not seized in 1948-49.

The EU has a very good reason to take action, however belated. The bloc is dependent on the Middle East for 40 per cent of its oil and regards the region as its strategic backyard. The last thing the EU wants is further strife and instability in the Levant. Therefore, comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace is a major EU interest. Clearly the ministers recognised that this was so: they adopted, with few Israeli-inspired changes, the Swedish text.

It is up to Jordan, as the Arab state that expressed strong backing for the EU statement, and the Palestinian Authority to build a solid structure on the foundation of words provided by the EU.

Michael Jansen is a freelance journalist and author of “The Battle for Beirut: Why Israel invaded Lebanon” , “Dissonance in Zion”, “The US and the Palestinian People” and “The Three Basic American Decisions on Palestine”.

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