EU could seek damages for West Bank buildings razed by Israel

Committee recommends member states seek reparations for demolition of Palestinian structures in Israeli-administered area — report

A building funded by the European Union in the West Bank. (Ben Sales/JTA)
A building funded by the European Union in the West Bank. (Ben Sales/JTA)

A European Union panel of Middle East experts has reportedly recommended that Israel be made to pay for EU-funded buildings it demolishes in the part of the West Bank where Israel exercises administrative and military control.

The EU’s Maghreb-Mashreq (MaMa) committee, which oversees relations with North Africa and the Middle East, will recommend that the 28 member states seek reparations from Israel for destroying buildings that they financed, Haaretz reported Monday. Jerusalem’s Foreign Ministry was furious at the recommendation and lodged protests with the EU and with some of the individual member states, the report said.

The decision, reportedly reached two weeks ago in Brussels, is not binding on the EU, but may form the basis for further discussion and any future decisions of the organization.

Officials on the committee were quoted by Haaretz as saying the decision was reached due to frustration with Israel’s actions. The diplomats stressed, however, that Germany strongly opposed the decision and insisted that it be watered down to a mere recommendation. The decision gives individual countries the option to seek damage payments from Israel if they wish.

The portion of the West Bank in question, called Area C, is fully administered by Israel. It comprises some 60% of the total territory and includes the Jewish settlements.

The Europeans want to prevent Israel from destroying Palestinian buildings in those locations, including dozens of structures financed by the EU. Israel says that the structures are built without authorization, often on land that is the subject of dispute, which gives it the right to demolish them.

Palestinians complain that they are not granted permits to build there and allege that Israel is trying to push them out with an eye to future annexation.

Two weeks ago, the security cabinet reportedly approved a series of Palestinian building plans in Area C.

In July, EU Ambassador to Israeli Lars Faaborg-Andersen said that since 2009 approximately 170 EU-funded structures of a value of €300,000 ($330,000, NIS 1.25 million) have been demolished or confiscated and approximately 600 structures, worth over €2.3 million ($2.5 million, NIS 9.7 million), have been served with demolition, stop-work or eviction orders and are therefore under threat of demolition.

During the first six months of 2016, Israel razed 91 houses built with the “support of the European Union,” up from 70 in all of 2015, he said. The EU has invested €21 million ($23.2 million, NIS 88 million) in the last two years for development and humanitarian aid for Palestinians, he added.

Faaborg-Andersen said the EU would continue to provide aid to the Palestinians in Area C, despite the tension it generates with Jerusalem.

Israel’s demolitions of unauthorized foreign-funded structures in the West Bank has long been a bone of contention, with Jerusalem and the European Union arguing over the legality of such structures. The EU argues that Israel, as an occupying power, is responsible for the Palestinian civilian population and that the international community is allowed to build facilities to help when there is need. Israel rejects this argument.

According to the Oslo Accords, Israel alone is responsible for civilian issues in Area C, including planning and building, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said. “As is customary in every country of laws, Israel does not allow construction without proper permits. In this case the construction is done without government approval in a non-residential area and therefore Israel executed its authority and demolished the buildings.”

Jerusalem expects from the international community only to fund legal constructions and to refrain from assisting “illegal provocations, whose only objective is to create facts on the ground” and violate signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, Nahshon said.

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