EU slams Israel for settlement expansion, settler violence

Allegations wrong and badly timed, Israel retorts, since new Netanyahu-Abbas statements show both want cooperation not confrontation

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A Jewish settler watches as a mobile home is moved from the illegal outpost of Ramat Gilad in March. (photo credit: Roy Sharon/Flash90)
A Jewish settler watches as a mobile home is moved from the illegal outpost of Ramat Gilad in March. (photo credit: Roy Sharon/Flash90)

The European Union on Monday slammed Israel over its settlement policies, saying they are illegal and threaten the possibility of a two-state solution.

The EU’s foreign ministers, at the monthly meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, adapted several conclusions, most of which focus on criticizing Israel for an “acceleration of settlement construction following the end of the 2010 moratorium,” and Jerusalem’s decisions to retroactively legalize some West Bank outposts.

The EU ministers welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that the new Israeli unity government will try to advance the peace process and welcomed the recent exchange of letters between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Yet they also lamented that Jerusalem decided to relocate the settlers from Migron — which was built on private Palestinian land and which the Supreme Court ruled needs to demolished — to an adjacent location within the West Bank.

Israeli officials dismissed the council’s resolution, saying it was unfortunately timed and based on inaccurate facts.

The EU foreign ministers also expressed “deep concern” about the “worsening living conditions” of Palestinians in the Israeli-controlled part of the West Bank, as well as plans of “forced transfer of the Bedouin communities.” The document further laments the new construction of Jewish buildings and “ongoing evictions and house demolitions” in East Jerusalem, and the “prevention of peaceful Palestinian cultural, economic, social or political activities.”

The council’s resolution restates its previously expressed stance that Israeli settlements in the West Bank “remain illegal under international law, irrespective of recent decisions by the government of Israel.”

While reiterating their “fundamental commitment to the security of Israel” and their rejection of rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli citizens, the European ministers said they were concerned about extremism and incitement by settlers. “The EU condemns continuous settler violence and deliberate provocations against Palestinian civilians. It calls on the government of Israel to bring the perpetrators to justice and to comply with its obligations under international law,” the resolution states.

The EU also repeated its call for an immediate and unconditional opening of crossings to and from the Gaza Strip. “Despite limited progress, the EU urges the government of Israel to take further meaningful and far-reaching steps allowing for the reconstruction and economic recovery of the Gaza Strip, including by allowing trade with the West Bank and Israel.”

Speaking to The Times of Israel on Monday, Israeli officials flatly rejected the resolution, saying it presents issues “out of context.” The settler violence quoted, for instance, is a problem the Israeli authorities have “reduced significantly,” one official said.

The resolution comes at a “really questionable time,” the official added.

The recent exchange of letters between Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the subsequent issuing of joint statements professing a commitment to peace show that while the two sides may not agree on most issues, they decided to not go the route of confrontation but rather of cooperation, he said. “While the joint statements don’t say much, they were issued by both sides together. The European Union is completely ignoring this.”

After Netanyahu’s special envoy Yitzhak Molho met Abbas in Ramallah this Saturday, the following joint statement was released: “Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace and the sides hope that the exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will further this goal.”

The EU’s resolution does in fact mention the letters, encouraging both parties to resume “substantive negotiations” to achieve a two-state solution and to “pursue actions conducive to an environment of confidence necessary to ensure meaningful negotiations, to refrain from actions that undermine the credibility of the process and to prevent incitement.”

The conclusions of the council, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, “include a long list of claims and criticism which are based on a partial, biased and one sided depiction of realities on the ground. Such a public presentation does not contribute to advance the process.”

Israel is committed to the well being of the Palestinian population and acts according to all relevant international conventions, the statement added.

“In Area C, for instance, 119 projects were authorized in 2011, through continuous dialogue with representatives of countries and other donors, in order insure that planned projects are coordinated and in conformity with local urban master plans and with the law. Israel takes note of the EU’s consideration of Israel’s security needs, of the Foreign Affairs Council’s call to renew direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, of the condemnation of rocket fire from Gaza, as well as of the concern raised by the FAC regarding the continued Palestinian incitement against Israel.”

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