Switzerland to hold reception in no-man’s land between Israel, West Bank

Switzerland to hold reception in no-man’s land between Israel, West Bank

Despite what maps and Israeli court says, embassy insists Israeli-Palestinian peace commune of Neve Shalom is located inside Israel proper

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

A Thai worker farms the land of Neve Shalom, near Latrun between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, November 22, 2016 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
A Thai worker farms the land of Neve Shalom, near Latrun between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, November 22, 2016 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Swiss embassy was set to host its annual National Day event Wednesday in Neve Shalom, an Israeli-Palestinian peace village located in what much of the international community considers an illegal West Bank settlement.

Located south of Latrun, Neve Shalom is situated in a sliver of land considered “no-man’s land” because neither Jordan nor Israel controlled it between 1948 and the 1967 Six Day War, during which Israel captured the West Bank.

The Swiss embassy in Tel Aviv selected Neve Shalom partly because it is located “equidistant from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Jaffa,” but mainly because of its dedication to Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, according to the invitation sent out by Ambassador Jean-Daniel Ruch.

“It is a model of equality, mutual respect and partnership that challenges existing patterns of racism and discrimination as well as the continued conflict,” the invitation stated. “The community has established educational institutions based on its ideals and conducts activities focused on social and political change. Many of the village members work in peace, justice and reconciliation projects.”

But the choice of location is curious, as Switzerland, like most other countries, does not recognize Israel beyond the 1967 lines.

Switzerland “does not conduct official relations with Israel in territories beyond the 1967 borders (except in specific cases of need),” the Swiss Foreign Ministry’s website states. That includes “any activity or visit in the company of representatives of the Israeli authorities on the territories in question.”

The website does not say explicitly whether Switzerland considers no-man’s land a part of Israel or not. But both the United Nations and the European Union have a clear policy of viewing Israeli localities in no-man’s land as illegal settlements.

A list drawn up by the EU to determine whether products may be eligible for preferential tariff treatment lists Neve Shalom as a “borderline community,” for which “importers are invited to consult their respective customs authorities prior to requesting preferential treatment.”

The EU grants a tax exemption togoods made in Israel proper; not so products manufactured in West Bank settlements.

Responding to a Times of Israel query, the Swiss embassy in Tel Aviv implied that it was aware of Neve Shalom’s location but did not consider it part of no-man’s land.

“While looking into organizing our National Day, we indeed carefully looked at the geographical location of Neve Shalom, in the context of the specific and complex situation of the no-man’s land area along the 1967 border, and reached the conclusion that Neve Shalom is mainly located on Israeli land (as internationally recognized), with only part of its agricultural lands in the no-man’s land. The event will not take place in the no-man’s land.”

According to Google maps, however, Neve Shalom is clearly located inside no-man’s land:

Last year, the Haaretz newspaper reported [paywall] that Beit Shemesh Magistrate’s Court Judge Alexander Ron had ruled that Neve Shalom is outside the State of Israel.

In a lengthy ruling, he explained that neither the Knesset nor the Israeli government demarcated the country’s borders in a precise matter.

“By hosting their official National Day in an Israeli settlement in what the EU and others regard as ‘occupied territory,’ Switzerland is rejecting the notion that they cannot engage with Israeli actors across the Green Line,” said Eugene Kontorovich, who heads the international law department at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a right-wing Israeli think tank.

“The event’s location shows the hollowness of repeated claims by the UN that international law prohibits such actions,” he added. “Of course, the Swiss Embassy has picked a famously ‘left-wing’ settlement for its party, but the legal argument against such events turns only on the Israeliness of the settlers, not their ideology.”

Earlier this year, Russia became the first country to hold its annual national day celebration in Jerusalem. Last month, the US — which last year officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — held its Independence Day celebration outside Tel Aviv.

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