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Why the EU needs to rein in Israel's settlement policy

An Israeli academic makes the case for Europe to contain Israel’s settlement policy with greater determination and more concrete measures.

By Nurit Peled-Elhanan

Times are very tough for both Israeli and Palestinian families. The death toll in Gaza currently stands at more than 1,000, the majority of whom are civilians. The death toll in Israel stands at 43, three of whom are civilians. Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank. A Palestinian youth from Jerusalem was burned alive by Jewish extremists. Dangerous and violent racism against Arab-Israeli citizens encouraged by Israeli ministers and parliament members has led to street riots, bred aggression and severe discrimination against Palestinians, along with a new aggression against peace activists.

Israel is currently suffering from an unprecedented social and economic crisis. The single source for this crisis is Israel’s destructive occupation. The occupation has raised two generations of Palestinians as prisoners, jailed between military checkpoints and walls. The two generations of Israelis who believe that they are the lords of the land are nurtured by the illusion that the oppression of 4.5 million Palestinians gives them security and peace, and that such an oppressive society is capable of raising compassionate children. Therefore, they are shocked when their boys become ruthless killers, as is revealed by current events.

Israel right-wing protesters attack left-wing activists after they protested in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel right-wing protesters attack left-wing activists after they protested in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

One of the most dominant and disastrous expressions of the occupation is the settlement project in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which is illegal under international law. The settlements allow Israel to take control of Palestinians’ natural resources ­– in violation of international law – to strengthen its presence in the territories and to make the occupation irreversible. Despite various agreements, international resolutions and Israeli promises, the settlements are expanding.

All the while, Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and so-called Area C (61% of the West Bank, under full Israeli control) are constantly destroyed. While water flows in the settlements without limitation, Palestinian villages live under a cruel water regime, as was recently pointed out by the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, during a speech he gave before the Israeli parliament. Many roads are closed to Palestinians and the restriction of movement is unbearable.

To this day, the international community has not done enough to stop Israeli settlements. European countries have profoundly criticized them, while continuing to cooperate fully with Israel economically, politically and militarily. As a result, Israel does not pay any price for seriously violating international law. On the contrary, Europe also pays for much of the humanitarian damage of the occupation, making it even easier for Israel to maintain.

House demolition in Anata, Northern Jerusalem, April 14, 2008 (Photo: Meged Gozani/Activestills.org)

House demolition in Anata, Northern Jerusalem, April 14, 2008 (Photo: Meged Gozani/Activestills.org)

A year ago, the EU made a small step in the right direction: guidelines were issued prohibiting EU institutions to fund or to finance research organizations and activities in the settlements. Twenty European countries have published formal warnings to their citizens and companies regarding trade and financial relations with the settlements.

And yet, these measures do not seriously challenge Israeli policy in occupied Palestine. Europe could do much better, as illustrated by its harsh response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It took the EU a few weeks, not years, to make its stance against Russian actions crystal clear. Just this week the EU took a further bold step in suspending the funding of new public-sector projects in Russia by the EU’s lending institution, the European Investment Bank. This is in addition to the previous decision to ban the import of Crimean goods and to impose targeted sanctions on both Russian and Ukrainian officials and on business firms operating in Crimea. This all occurred, of course, well before the Malaysian passenger jet was shot down just this week.

Israel controls millions of Palestinians under an ongoing military occupation, claiming that this situation is “temporary.” However, a military occupation of 47 years, which includes the establishment of settlements, cannot be described as “temporary.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton with PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: GPO/Avi Ohayun)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton with PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: GPO/Avi Ohayun)

As an Israeli longing for peace and justice, I believe Europe has to contain the settlement policy with greater determination and more concrete measures. The world increasingly understands the threat that the settlements pose to peace and stability in the region. Over time, neither Palestinians nor Israelis can survive without freedom and independence for the Palestinians. Already, the undemocratic character of the state of Israel is increasingly transforming it into an apartheid state.

For the two nations living in this region, there is a joint and real interest in ending the Israeli occupation as a precondition for peace. We, the citizens of Israel and the stateless people of Palestine, cannot bring this about on our own. We need the help of the international community at large and of the EU in particular.

As a laureate of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Human Rights, and as a mother and a human being, I call on the EU to use all the diplomatic and economic tools at its disposal to help save my country from the abyss of eternal occupation and injustice.

Professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan is a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the 2001 Sakharov Prize Laureate, and the co-founder of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.


When reality becomes hate speech: President of EU Parliament visits Israel
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    1. Tomer

      Israelis will still be living in Yehuda and Shomron when the EU’s been dismantled & long-forgotten.

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        Enjoy your 1000-year Reich.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Sonnenuhr

      Reza, enjoy the death and destruction of Palestinians and their property every few years. Settlements were never an impediment to peace. The Oslo Accords provided that Israeli settlements were a final status issue. In all negotiations, and as included in the Clinton parameters, all the major Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria were to remain as part of Israel. Lands swaps were to compensate Palestinians for Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria.

      The real sticking points in negotiations is that Palestinians will not give up their alleged right of return and will not consider any peace agreement an end of the conflict.

      Reply to Comment
      • Henry

        “Settlements were never an impediment to peace.”

        Said everyone who’s ever been the settler, and no one who’s ever been settled on.

        Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        Except for the fact that Abbas promised to basically render ROR toothless.

        Reply to Comment
        • Sonnenuhr

          What Abbas said is that he would give up his wrong of return but he would never surrender any other Palestinian claim to return to Israel. In addition in every negotiation Abbas and Arafat refused to concede that a peace agreement would end the conflict. What good to Israel would be a peace agreement which allowed Palestinians to conduct hostilities against it ad infinitum?

          Reply to Comment
      • JG

        Enjoy your fascist settler colony in the Westbank, as long as it will exist. Last 100yera Reich didn’t last long either

        Reply to Comment
        • Sonnenuhr

          My suggestion to you, JG, is do not try to hold your breath waiting for Israel to disappear. The Pax Romana succeeded in establishing a holy Roman Empire for 1000 years and another 1000 years under Byzantium rule. I do not see Israel going away anytime in the next 2000 years.

          Reply to Comment
          • JG

            Muahahaha, you’re a funny dude. Now your square inches of Levante are like the Roman Empire, ROFL
            Don’t you guys take real history classes or do you just belive what fiction books and Hasbarah oficers tell you?

            Reply to Comment
    3. shmuel

      I just wonder how this brave woman succeeded to become a professor at the HU.

      Reply to Comment