'Extremely grave breach of EU-Israel relationship'

Dozens of MKs accuse EU of blood libel, hatred after West Bank plan leaked

Coalition and opposition lawmakers say internal European document on Area C with plans to boost Palestinians represents ‘same flames of primitive hatred’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

A Palestinian walks on a newly-made section of a road that was financed by the European Union, on the outskirts of the West Bank village of Taqoa, near Bethlehem, January. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
A Palestinian walks on a newly-made section of a road that was financed by the European Union, on the outskirts of the West Bank village of Taqoa, near Bethlehem, January. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Dozens of right-wing lawmakers from both the presumed incoming coalition and its opponents on Wednesday called a leaked European Union document formulating a new program to protect Palestinian claims in the West Bank an “extremely grave breach” of the EU-Israel relationship.

In a letter to top EU officials, the Knesset members effectively accused the Europeans of antisemitism and of dismissing historical Jewish ties to the West Bank.

“We were apparently mistaken in thinking that racist, religious hatred of Jews and Israel was a thing of the past,” read the missive, signed by 40 MKs. “It saddens us to discover time and time again that under the thin veneer of the EU’s civility and manners and the seeming concern for human rights, the same old blood libels can be found, along with the same flames of primitive hatred that seek this time to persecute – not the individual Jew, but the tiny Jewish state.”

“The document completely ignores our people’s historical affinity to our homeland,” the letter said, highlighting its call to monitor Israeli archaeological activities at Jewish heritage sites. “This singular call has but one goal: to subvert the deep and indestructible bond between the Jewish people and its country and homeland.”

The lawmakers said the gravity of the leaked six-page EU document — titled “European Joint Development Programme for Area C” — could not be overstated.

They added that the paper “leaves no room for doubt as to the one-sidedness and animosity of the EU toward the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

The letter called on the EU to halt illegal construction in areas under Israeli control, stop activities that damage heritage sites and nature in the West Bank, and desist from funding NGOs that seek to delegitimize Israel.

According to the confidential June 2022 “Discussion Note” — seen by The Times of Israel — the EU expressly aims to “protect the rights” of Palestinians living in Area C.

It proposes a five-pillar approach, including mapping out land in Area C, providing legal aid to Palestinians, and enhancing ties between local authorities in Areas A, B and C, with the ultimate goal of fully integrating the three types of territory under Palestinian Authority control.

Israel’s Channel 13 first broke the story on Monday.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, the West Bank was split into three administrative divisions, with Area A controlled by the Palestinian Authority, Area B under split control and Area C — the largest section, constituting about 60 percent of the territory — remaining fully under Israeli control.

Letter from 40 MKs to EU’s top officials accusing them of animus against Jews and Israel in light of leaked program on Area C, December 21, 2022 (screenshot)

Area C, which is the only contiguous section of the West Bank and contains the most fertile land and valuable natural resources, was supposed to be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction, according to the accords, but that has not happened. The Israeli settlements are located in Area C.

The letter was addressed to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.

It was signed by members of the Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties from the Benjamin Netanyahu-led coalition expected to form a government Wednesday night, and by opposition National Unity MKs and outgoing ministers Ze’ev Elkin and Matan Kahana.

Likud MK Amichai Chikli told The Times of Israel that the letter was sent to protest “a document that confirms the grave reality on the ground, massive illegal construction planned and financed by the European Union in Area C, while utterly ignoring Israeli sovereignty in the area, while seriously harming  landscape, nature and heritage assets.”

Likud party member Amichai Chikli arrives for a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on the election committee decision to disqualify him from running in the upcoming Knesset election, October 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In response to Monday’s report, the EU’s delegation in Israel would not confirm its authenticity, saying only that as a rule they do not comment on alleged internal documents.

“The EU’s policies and positions are formed by 27 member states and are conveyed and communicated in a proper way both to partners and to the media,” said the delegation in a statement. “Our policy regarding the West Bank has not changed: The EU is united in its commitment to achieving a two-state solution with the State of Israel living live side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition with an independent, democratic, contiguous, sovereign and viable State of Palestine, with Jerusalem as the future capital of both states.”

Area C is today home to around 400,000 Israelis, with 70% of the land off-limits for Palestinian development.

The Foreign Ministry said that the document expresses positions that it sees as “unacceptable,” which Israel has expressed to the EU in the past on multiple occasions.

It also noted the high-level contacts between the two sides, including the renewal of Association Council meetings in June for the first time in a decade.

ELNET, an organization working to build ties between Israel and Europe, called on the EU to promote solutions by increasing its cooperation with Israel. “No long-term solution can come without a frank and direct conversation between all sides,” a spokesman for the organization told The Times of Israel.

The report was written well before the elections in November that will in all likelihood see Benjamin Netanyahu back in power at the head of a right-wing coalition, and as such is not a response to any anticipated changes in Israeli policy.

Religious Zionism leader MK Bezalel Smotrich standing above the illegal Bedouin encampment of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to the coalition deal reached earlier this month between Netanyahu and Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, authority over the Civil Administration — an agency of the Defense Ministry and the IDF that directs civilian life in Area C — will be transferred from the Likud defense minister to a junior minister within the Defense Ministry who will be appointed by the far-right Religious Zionism party, likely Smotrich himself.

Smotrich blasted the reported EU document Monday, saying that “the blatant involvement of the EU in the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to establish facts on the ground and unilaterally establish a de facto Arab terrorist state in the heart of the Land of Israel is unacceptable, contrary to international law, and incompatible with basic rules of diplomacy in relations between countries.”

He also pledged that the incoming government would work to stymie the “hostile activity” of the PA and international actors.

“Europe’s use of labels like support for ‘civil society’ and ‘human rights’ were designed to hide the millions of euros given every year to selected NGOs allies, particularly in Area C, to create facts on the ground,” said Gerald Steinberg, the president of the pro-Israel organization NGO Monitor. “Now that the pretense is out in the open, the potential for a major confrontation between Israel and Europe, including over support for NGOs, is very high.”

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