March-April 2012, Pages 14-15, 71
Leaked EU Documents Criticize Israeli Policies, Hint at Greater EU Involvement
By Jonathan Cook
Relations between Israel and Europe have rapidly soured after the leaking in recent weeks of a series of confidential reports compiled by European diplomats that have criticized Israel in unprecedented terms.
The documents, which warn that the chances of a two-state solution are fast fading, appear to reflect mounting exasperation among the 27 European Union member states at Israel's refusal to revive talks with the Palestinians.
The reports recommend a more engaged role for the EU, including efforts to stop the "forced transfer" of Palestinians from sections of the West Bank and legislation to prevent transactions by European companies that support Israeli settlements.
The Israeli media, reporting on the developing crisis, have led with headlines such as "Israel vs. Europe." Most have sided with Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's far-right foreign minister, who has accused the Europeans of "interfering" in an internal Israeli issue and of "making themselves irrelevant."
Israeli observers have warned that a clash with Europe is the last thing Israel needs, following its recent falling-out with key strategic allies in the region, such as Turkey and Egypt.
Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition Kadima party, warned that Israel was "starting a war against its closest friends in Europe." Meanwhile, the liberal Haaretz newspaper argued that, with the loss of Europe, Washington was now "the only barrier between Israel and international isolation—which borders on strategic danger."
Tensions have risen over what appears to be an increasingly independent European approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, suggesting a possible break with the EU's traditional submissiveness toward Washington's Middle East agenda.
European powers appear to be balking at the prospect that the two-state solution is about to slip out of grasp, as Netanyahu's right-wing government refuses to make meaningful concessions and speeds up the pace of settlement-building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
That would mean the end of the framework of the Oslo accords, a diplomatic process that Europe has invested in heavily and which has dictated the West's approach to peace-making for nearly two decades.
The EU's critical stance has been expressed most clearly in three internal documents that were leaked separately to the media over the past weeks. All three reports suggest that European states are contemplating becoming actively involved in areas of Palestinian life under Israeli rule, possibly taking on a stewardship role, even if—as seems certain—it would risk angering Israel.
One of the documents chiefly concerns Israeli activities in occupied East Jerusalem, echoing a similar confidential report that was leaked two years ago.
But the EU also appears to be considering becoming more engaged in new areas of the conflict. The two other reports deal respectively with the large Palestinian minority living inside Israel and with Palestinians in the West Bank's so-called "Area C," which covers nearly two-thirds of the occupied territory and which the Oslo accords placed under temporary Israeli control.
Europe's reluctance to go public with the documents indicates the great sensitivity of its proposed more activist role.
An Israeli official quoted by the Jerusalem Post newspaper was dismissive that the reports would have any impact on the ground, suggesting they would not affect the official positions adopted in Brussels.
However, the documents do indicate that pressure is mounting on European states, which collectively have been the largest donor to the Palestinians during the Oslo period, to take a firmer line against Israeli intransigence. The publics of several major European countries have become far more critical of Israeli policies than their governments.
In addition, European governments may fear that the official demise of the Oslo process will provoke further conflict in a region already undergoing political upheavals that could spill over on to their shores.
The tenor of the reports has been echoed in recent public statements by European leaders. In January, for example, using uncharacteristically harsh language, Nick Clegg, Britain's deputy prime minister, described Israeli settlement construction as "an act of deliberate vandalism."
In another embarrassing incident for Israel, a report produced for the French parliament accused Israel of adopting "apartheid" policies in its distribution of water resources in the West Bank, preferring Jewish settlers over Palestinians.
Of the three EU documents, the most controversial suggests that Israel is conducting a policy of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank to allow the settlers to take over the area.
The report notes that, under Israeli rule, the Palestinian population has shrunk dramatically in Area C to only 150,000, compared to as many as twice that number in the Jordan Valley alone in 1967, when the West Bank was conquered by Israel. The Jewish population in the settlements, meanwhile, has grown to 310,000, tripling in less than 20 years.
The 16-page report, which was leaked to Israel's popular Ynet Web site, claims Israel is "rapidly closing the window" on a two-state solution.
A diplomat told the Israeli media that all the European governments backed the document: "What's special about this report is that we are all partners in it and agree on the wording."
The paper blames a raft of Israeli policies for what is termed "forced transfer of the native population." These include home demolitions, severe prohibitions on construction, settlement expansion, movement restrictions, and denial of access to land and water.
The result of Palestinian migration to other parts of the West Bank, mainly the cities under the control of the Palestinian Authority, is that less than 6 percent of the territory's Palestinians now reside in an area that is expected to comprise the majority of any future Palestinian state. Area C, the report notes, includes "crucial natural resources and land for the future demographic and economic growth of a viable Palestinian state."
The report on Jerusalem makes similar criticisms, this time in relation to the eastern half of the city occupied by Israel in 1967. It accuses Israel of "systematically undermining the Palestinian presence" in the city through the discriminatory use of building regulations, enforcement of house demolitions and evictions, revocation of residency rights, construction of the separation wall, archeological activities, underfunding of schools, and denial of Palestinian political activity.
The report on Area C recommends that the EU take an active role in promoting Palestinian economic development and backing infrastructure projects related to roads, water, schools and medical clinics to "support the Palestinian people and help maintain their presence [in the area]." No mention is made of Israeli involvement or cooperation.
A Harsh Statement at the U.N.
The document may have been one of the reasons for an unexpectedly harsh statement in December from Britain, France, Germany and Portugal at the United Nations, expressing "dismay" at Israel's settlement policy. They also castigated Israel for failure to control extremist groups among the settlers, who have grown increasingly bold in launching violent attacks on Palestinians, including burning crops and torching mosques.
The U.N. action coincided with the submission by Andrew Standley, the EU ambassador to Israel, of a formal protest to Israel's Foreign Ministry over the growing number of house demolitions in Area C and the economic distress of its Palestinian inhabitants.
Standley's letter also highlighted EU concerns about a plan for the so-called E1 zone, between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim in the West Bank. Israel has threatened to clear out 2,500 Bedouin living at the site to prepare for the construction of a new settlement called Mevasseret Adumim.
In December Lieberman expressed outrage at another confidential EU report, this one a draft by European embassies in Israel on an equally sensitive subject—Israel's Palestinian minority. The paper was leaked to Haaretz. The Israeli Foreign Ministry accused the EU of drafting it "behind our backs."
The 27-page report breaks new ground in proposing that the EU play a central part in protecting the interests of Palestinians within Israel's borders rather than only in the occupied territories.
It catalogues widespread discrimination in education, employment, housing and access to land, and notes a surge in legislative proposals targeting the Palestinian minority and "a political climate in which discriminatory rhetoric and practice go unsanctioned."
It suggests that Israel's treatment of its Palestinian citizens should move from being "second tier to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" to a "core issue." It adds that Israel's obligation to "ensure the equality of all its citizens" cannot wait on a revival of the stalled peace process. Tackling inequality, it concludes, "is integral to Israel's long-term stability."
A long list of recommendations for the EU to implement include lobbying against discriminatory laws, encouraging greater investment by European hi-tech firms in Arab areas, ensuring each European state "adopts" an Arab community, and awarding more scholarships to Arab students.
Jonathan Cook is a journalist based in Nazareth and a winner of this year's Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His most recent book is Disappearing Palestine.