BRUSSELS, Belgium – The European Union on Saturday called on Israel to halt the demolition of Palestinian housing, some of which was EU-funded, and reiterated its opposition to expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
“In the past weeks there have been a number of developments in Area C of the West Bank, which risk undermining the viability of a future Palestinian state and driving the parties yet further apart,” the EU diplomatic service said in a statement.
It referred to Israel’s decision on January 25 to declare 154 hectares (380 acres) of land near Jericho in the West Bank as state land, with reported plans to build around 150 new residences for settlers.
This was followed by the demolition of several Palestinian residences in the south Hebron hills on Wednesday.
“This is particularly concerning both because of the extent of the demolitions and also the number of vulnerable individuals affected, including children who need support,” the EU said, adding that “demolitions included EU-funded structures.”
“We call on the Israeli authorities to reverse the decisions taken and to halt further demolitions,” it said.
Foreign ministers from the 28 EU nations had confirmed “the EU’s firm opposition to Israel’s settlement policy” and criticized the actions including demolitions, confiscation and forced transfers.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Friday he was “ashamed” at a lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been deadlocked since a US peace mission collapsed in April 2014.
Israel has criticized the EU-funded construction as “illegal” and intended to create facts on the ground on the Palestinian side.
Army Radio reported Thursday that Israeli inspectors were having difficulty keeping up with the pace of prefabricated homes which, it said, are delivered flat-packed in the dead of night to be assembled early in the morning.
According to the report, the EU has built more than 200 structures in Area C of the West Bank in recent years, territory which, according to the Oslo Accords signed in 1993 between the Israelis and Palestinians, falls under full Israeli civil and security control. Ten prefabs arrived in the past two weeks alone, the radio report claimed.
Israeli forces demolished 24 out of 40 targeted structures on Tuesday in and around the village of Khirbet Jenbah south of Hebron — 10 of them EU-funded — after the buildings were declared to be located in a military firing zone by the army body that oversees civilian activities in the territories.
The demolitions came after a protracted arbitration battle failed to produce results, the Defense Ministry stated.
The High Court of Justice ordered an emergency stay to the demolition order after a European group appealed the decision. The stay will last at least until a February 9 hearing before the court.
On Thursday morning, Israeli forces demolished five tents, three barns and an outside toilet it said had been built without permits in the village of Tammun in the northeastern West Bank, the Ynet news site reported.
Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, on Thursday accused the EU of hypocrisy.
“They can’t come and on the one hand blame Israel for creating facts on the ground and yet spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a comprehensive plan for illegal construction,” he told Army Radio.
He said that while it was fine for the EU to build in Area C in coordination with Israel, “in the same breath, there’s a system that… like thieves in the night, they are building illegal buildings… to create territorial contiguity for the Palestinians. They are creating facts on the ground instead of pressuring the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.”
Army Radio said many of the trailer-type buildings arriving in the West Bank carried the names of the EU or an EU-affiliated organization and were being delivered to areas such as the Jordan Valley and the hills leading down to Jericho.
Israeli supervisors usually identified and dismantled them quickly “but the phenomenon has broadened to the extent that the supervisors’ unit doesn’t always manage to keep up with the pace.”
Asserting that Area C is “part of the occupied Palestinian territory and part of any viable future Palestinian state,” the EU Mission in Israel said the union had stepped in on humanitarian grounds because of Israel’s failure to approve more than a handful of master plans that would allow the Palestinians to build themselves.
All EU activity in the West Bank was “fully in line with international humanitarian law” and formed part of efforts to promote economic development and improve the quality of life of Palestinian communities in Area C in the private sector, the environment and agriculture,” said the statement.