Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to move forward with a plan to demolish some 400 Palestinian structures built in the West Bank with European funding, Israeli media reported Friday.
The prime minister’s order came shortly after a Thursday exposé in the Daily Mail claimed that the EU sank tens of millions of euros into homes which were not granted building permits by the Israeli government.
Official EU documentation discovered by the newspaper stated that the buildings were intended to “pave the way for development and more authority of the PA over Area C,” raising concerns that the governmental organization was taking sides in the dispute by shaping the demographics of the Israeli-controlled territory.
A portion of the homes, which largely resemble prefabricated caravans, were built in the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim and near the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus, according to Israeli news site NRG.
According to the Daily Mail, the construction in 17 locations cost tens of millions in EU public funds.
On Friday, a spokesman for the European Union defended its funding for the unlicensed construction, even as another EU official had denied wrongdoing.
Shadi Othman, a communications officer at the Office of the European Union Representative in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, spoke to the Daily Mail Thursday about the union’s funding the construction of the 400 homes for Palestinians in the West Bank’s Area C, which according to the Oslo Accords remains under Israeli control until a negotiated final agreement.
“This is part of the work done to build the future Palestinian state which will live side by side with Israel,” Othman said. “Palestinians have a right to live there, build schools there, have economic development.”
Maja Kocijancic, a Brussels-based EU spokesperson, earlier denied any wrongdoing, insisting that construction had not taken place.
“The EU’s funding will provide training and expertise, to help the relevant Palestinian Authority ministries to plan and build new infrastructure and enable people to reclaim and rebuild their land there,” she said. “To date, no construction has started yet under these programs. The EU is not funding illegal projects.”
She later declined to comment on a series of photographs purporting the construction of the settlements and an EU-Oxfam sign that stated the main activities of the project was the “rehabilitation and reclamation” of land.
Othman was interviewed about footage collected by the Israeli not-for-profit Regavim, which shows structures bearing plaques with the EU logo. Regavim says the structures were erected in recent months without license from Israeli authorities.
The European Union has long complained to Israel about the thousands of homes built for Jewish settlers in Area C, rejecting Israeli claims that they are built in settlements likely to become part of Israel in a final deal.
Michael Theurer, a German member of the European Parliament and its Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, told the Daily Mail he was “taking these allegations seriously and will thoroughly investigate them.
Ari Briggs, the International Director of Regavim and the report’s principal author, insisted that the EU and Oxfam were using the project as a “Trojan horse” to undermine Israeli claims to the area.
“Area C has been identified by the anti-Israel ‘humanitarian community’ as a hot spot to push Israel,” Briggs stated.
“These organizations with EU funding are encouraging and actively aiding the illegal attempt to take over public land. This has nothing to do with human rights and everything to do with taking advantage of less privileged nomadic societies for political goals,” insisted Briggs.
James Carver, a British MEP for the West Midlands region, wrote a letter this week to the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs condemning the “illegal” project: “The structures all bear the name and flag of the EU and official EU agents have been photographed participating in overseeing the construction, so the active involvement of the EU can hardly be denied.”
“I kindly call upon you to do your utmost to bring an end to these illegal and destructive activities,” he wrote.
Alan Baker, an international lawyer who took part in the creation of the Oslo Accords, accused the EU of interfering in the conflict.
“The EU is a signatory to the Oslo Accords, so they cannot pick and choose when they recognize it,” he said. According to international law, all building in Area C must have permission from Israel, whether it is temporary or permanent.”
“The same principle applies anywhere in the world. If you want to build, you need planning permission…The EU is ignoring international law and taking concrete steps to influence the facts on the ground,” Baker stated.
An unnamed Israeli government source claimed the venture exemplified “the double standards of the EU”, which “deplores Israeli settlements in the West Bank while simultaneously funding its own for Palestinians: “If Israel started building houses in the middle of Hyde Park, the British government would immediately take them down…The EU is doing things that would never be acceptable in Europe.”
MK Yariv Levin also accused the Europeans of double-speak.
“It is hypocritical of the EU to criticize Israeli construction while at the same time actively supporting and practically taking part in illegal Palestinian settlement construction on Israeli land,” the Likud MK charged.
The European Union is opposed to Jewish construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, maintaining it is counterproductive to the emergence of a Palestinian state.