In first, key European body calls on Palestinians to stop financing terror

Israel declares ‘diplomatic achievement’; Council of Europe also slams Trump’s Jerusalem decision and urges increased EU role in peace process

Dov Lieber is a former Times of Israel Arab affairs correspondent.

Illustrative. Palestinians celebrate after Palestinian prisoners end a hunger strike over their conditions in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 27, 2017. (Flash90)
Illustrative. Palestinians celebrate after Palestinian prisoners end a hunger strike over their conditions in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 27, 2017. (Flash90)

The leading European human rights assembly on Thursday endorsed a resolution that called on Ramallah to stop paying salaries to the families of Palestinian terrorists. It also condemned the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and called for an increased European role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The resolution primarily deals with the consequences of US President Donald Trump’s December 6 declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and promising to relocate the US embassy there.

“The role of the United States as a serious broker in the peace process was undoubtedly undermined by the declaration of its President on Jerusalem. Its future role should be based on a renewed attitude of neutrality in the peace process,” the resolution states.

“In this context, Europe should play a major role in the sponsorship and resumption of the peace process,” it continues.

Thursday’s resolution was approved hours before Trump declared in Davos that the US would no longer provide aid to the Palestinians if they refused to engage in US-brokered peace talks with Israel. He also said he’d taken Jerusalem “off the table” with his December 6 recognition, which had led the Palestinians to freeze ties with the US.

US President Donald Trump (right) speaks with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on January 25, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

The resolution advocated for an increased European role in the peace process alongside the US and added that “decisive” action should be taken by the international community, including the Council of Europe, to create conditions for relaunching the peace process.

It also said the council believes the peace process “no longer seems to be a priority for the USA, for Europe and for some Arab States.”

Israelis and Palestinians have not sat together at the negotiating table since US-backed talks fell apart in 2014.

In what appeared to be a small diplomatic coup for Israel, the resolution included a clause condemning Ramallah’s policy of paying terrorists jailed in Israel and the families of so-called ‘martyrs’ a monthly salary. The clause did not appear in an early draft of the resolution seen by The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

It marked the first time the Council of Europe has called on the Palestinian Authority to stop financing terror activities against Israel, said Israel’s ambassador to the human rights body.

Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen’s office said other Palestinian efforts to have the text further amended to include harsher criticisms of Israel did not affect the final draft. In a statement, he called the vote a “diplomatic achievement” for Israel.

“The Palestinians, I think, are sorry for instigating the unnecessary move, but that’s how it is when you’re constantly preoccupied with lies and incitement,” he said.

The Council of Europe comprises 47 European states, including 27 EU member states. Israel has an observer delegation in the council, while the Palestinians have a “partner for democracy delegation.”

The resolution also condemned continued construction in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, arguing that such activity is “undermining the feasibility of the two-state solution.”

Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad, right, and Saleh al-Arouri of Hamas shake hands after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo, on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements ended their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

It also condemned the failure of rival Palestinian factions Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, to reconcile. The resolution said the lack of reconciliation harms the “credibility” of the Palestinians in negotiations.

According to the PA Finance Ministry’s 2017 budget, published on its website earlier in July, salaries to incarcerated and released Palestinian prisoners, many of whom are convicted terrorists, would amount to NIS 552 million ($153.4 million) for the year.

The budget also allocated $190,869,166 for payments to so-called “families of martyrs,” up from $174,630,296 allocated in 2016.

The families are defined as those with members who were “killed or wounded in the struggle against Zionism,” including those killed while committing attacks against Israelis, or in any other context by an Israeli.

Palestinians argue the payments are a form of social welfare.

The US Senate and House of Representatives are working on legislation, backed by the Trump administration, that could freeze most US financial aid to the Palestinians if the controversial payments don’t cease.

Following the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Palestinian leadership declared that Washington could no longer fulfill the historic and central role in the peace process it has held for over two decades.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) is welcomed by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini prior to attend a EU foreign affairs council at the European Council in Brussels, January 22, 2018. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

Instead, Abbas is now seeking a new international framework through which the Palestinians can win an independent state. The main players in that arena, from his point of view, are the EU, the UN, Russia and China.

On Monday, European Union Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini said Brussels was ready to take a “central role,” alongside the United States, expanding the international role in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel rejects any negotiations that are not bilateral and led by the US.

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