EU countries consider sanctions on Israeli settlers

26.11.12 @ 10:05

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU diplomats have given the green light for member states to impose visa bans on violent Israeli settlers.

  • EU memo: settlers operate in 'a culture of impunity' (Photo: ISM-NC)

The Political and Security Committe (PSC) - a group of EU ambassadors dealing with conflict zones - approved the step at its meeting in Brussels on 16 November.

The PSC memo - seen by EUobserver and copied below - says: "Individual EU member states could explore possibilities of denying access of known violent settlers to the EU."

It also says EU diplomats in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv should "step up monitoring" of the problem, including to "attend trials in the most serious cases" - an activity more often reserved for countries with egregious human rights problems, such as Belarus or Russia.

It notes that settler violence "mainly targets Palestinian civilians, including children, and their property and includes vandalizing religious sites such as mosques and Christian institutions."

It adds that "the attacks appear ... to be becoming more severe and, in some areas, more co-ordinated" in what amounts to "coercion aimed at forcing Palestinian communities in area C [part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank] to leave with a view to expanding settlements or outposts."

The memo recognizes that Israel has stepped up action against settler radicals.

But it says they still operate in a "culture of impunity ... There are worrying reports of incidents in which the Israeli military, despite being present, have failed to intervene to protect Palestinians."

The settler sanctions idea has been bandied around by EU heads of mission in Ramallah for over a year.

But it never became public EU policy because Israeli-friendly member states routinely blocked it.

Meanwhile, EU ministers did not discuss the memo at their meeting in Brussels last week because the Middle East agenda was hijacked by the eruption of fighting in Gaza.

An EU diplomat told this website that PSC-level approval falls short of making sanctions into official EU policy.

But it raises - for the first time - the prospect of concrete action: under the EU's so-called Schengen passport-free travel zone, if one Schengnen member red-flags a name in the border-control system, all the other Schengen members are legally obliged to keep that person out.

It also highlights EU frustration with Israeli settlement expansion ahead of a UN vote on 29 November on upgrading Palestine's status.

For its part, Israel reacted angrily to the development.

"As for the inflammatory proposal to refuse to admit what they call 'known violent settlers' because Israel hasn't put them on trial, there's an internal contradiction there. How will a person be defined as a 'violent settler' if he hasn't been convicted?" its foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, told the Haaretz newspaper on Monday.

Israel's line is that settlers are a side issue in the conflict, which can only be solved if Palestinians agree to recognise Israel in bilateral peace talks.

Full text of PSC memo

MASHREK/MAGHREB [MaMa]

DATE : 17/10/2012

Follow-up to 14 May FAC conclusions on MEPP: Settler violence

Note from MaMa to PSC

1. Following the l2 June 2012 tasking of the PSC MaMa discussed the issue of settler violence in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and possible ways for the EU to help counter it. The discussions were, in particular, based on the EU head of mission report on settler violence from April 2011 and on the update to it from February 2012: "EU note on settler violence."

2. MaMa recalled that the EU Foreign Ministers had expressed deep concern regarding settler extremism and incitement by settlers in the West Bank, condemned continuous settler violence and deliberate provocations against Palestinian civilians and called on the government of Israel to bring the perpetrators to justice and to comply with its obligations under international law (14 May 2012 FAC conclusions on MEPP). In this context MaMa recalled that ending incitement is an obligation of both parties of the conflict under the Roadmap.

3. Violence by extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, mainly targets Palestinian civilians, including children, and their property and includes vandalizing religious sites such as mosques and Christian institutions. Israeli security personnel and other settlers have also been attacked. A particularly worrying aspect of the violence are so called "price tag" attacks aiming also at intimidating the Israeli authorities and public in an attempt to prevent action against settlements and outposts. Many of the cases of violence and intimidation also appear to be part of a pattern of coercion aimed at forcing Palestinian communities in area C to leave with a view to expanding settlements or outposts.

4. Settler violence has developed in a political context where the number of settlers has continued to expand, where the political strength of the settlement movement has grown and where the Israeli authorities have generally not taken firm action against outposts illegal also under Israeli law, contributing to a culture of impunity in which the violence continues.

5. In addition to the documented increase in the numbers of settler attacks in recent years, MaMa assessed that the attacks appear also to be becoming more severe and, in some areas, more co-ordinated. The UN considers settler violence as the biggest security threat to its personnel in the West Bank. According to UNOCHA, the number of settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties and property damage had increased by 32% in 2011 compared to 2010, and by 44% compared to 2009. The majority of these attacks take place in area C of the West Bank, and in recent years many attacks have been carried out by extremist settlers living in settlement outposts.

6. MaMa welcomed the recent strong condemnations by the lsraeli Government of violent acts by extremist settlers and the creation of a special police unit to investigate "price tag" attacks. It took note that certain Israeli authorities have defined some acts by violent settlers as "terrorism acts" and have pledged compensation for the victims. The Israeli military issued, in January 2012, restraining orders to a dozen extremist settlers suspected of targeting Palestinians and Israeli security forces and a number have been arrested in connection with recent attacks. However, more should be done in practice to counter the culture of impunity surrounding settler violence. Perpetrators have rarely faced punishment for crimes against Palestinians. Over 90% of monitored complaints regarding settler violence filed by Palestinians with the Israeli police in recent years have been closed without indictment according to UNOCHA. Many victims are reluctant or unable to file complaints with the police as police stations are often located in settlements where access is restricted for Palestinians. There are also worrying reports of incidents in which the Israeli military, despite being present, have failed to intervene to protect Palestinians or their property from violence by extremist settlers.

7. Settler violence is a joint preoccupation of the international community, including the EU, the PA and Israel. MaMa agreed that combating it is essential for creating an environment conducive to the two-state solution. If current trends continue, any dismantling of settlements, which in numerous instances is already a Road map obligation, would risk entailing an even greater increrse in settler violence. If settler violence is not dealt with preventively, it will increasingly obstruct efforts by both parties for solving the conflict.

8. In line with the May 2012 FAC conclusions on MEPP and taking into account the recommendations of EU HoM's in Jerusalem and Ramallah in countering settler violence and ensuring accountability, MaMa recommends the following line of action:

The EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah will increase monitoring and regular reporting on settler violence in the oPt. The EU missions in Tel-Aviv will monitor and report on settler violence that occur in Israel. The EU will do this with the assistance local and international organizations and provide support to NGOS undertaking such monitoring.

The EU missions in Tel Aviv as well as in Jerusalem and Ramallah will step up monitoring on the Israeli authorities action against violence by extremist settlers with a view to having systematic and trustworthy information. In so far as possible, the EU missions could attend trials in the most serious cases.

The EU will continue to urge Israeli authorities to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, in the oPt, including the applicability of the fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilians. In line with its 2009 Guidelines on human Rights and International humanitarian Law, the EU will engage with Israeli authorities, including within the framework of the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

The EU will try to reinforce the dynamic of the Israeli Government's stronger stance against settler violence and more actively engage in dialogue with the Israeli authorities at different levels, including within the framework of the EU-Israel Association Agreement (e.g. sub-committee on political dialogue and co-operation) to curb all forms of settler violence and increase law enforcement in areas prone to settler violence. In this regard the EU messages should focus on the following: step up protection of Palestinians by Israeli security forces; actively prevent the recurrence of acts of violence; take more decisive action against known extremist settlers; strengthen investigation capacities (e.g. collection of evidence, testimonies on cases); provide appropriate access to law enforcement for Palestinians and take measures to ensure that cases of settler violence are followed up with appropriate legal proceedings. Prevention implies also a stronger attitude against any form of incitement emanating from both political as well as religious circles.

On the basis of 14 May Council conclusions, the EU and Member States will engage in a consistent manner on all relevant occasions at the appropriate political level with the Israeli counterparts conveying the key messages outlined above.

The EU will systematically condemn publicly serious attacks by extremist settlers and reinforce language used in such statements. Member States willing to issue individual statements should ensure consistency in the messaging.

The EU will encourage the government of Israel and the PA to provide appropriate support for Palestinians subject to settler violence. This includes informing individuals and communities about ways of filing complaints to Israeli police and liaising with the Israeli Civil administration. The EU will also continue to provide support to different NGOs which can also undertake such action and will explore greater coordination of such financial support.

The EU will continue to raise the issue with key international partners individually and in forums such as the Quartet and relevant UN bodies.

Individual EU Member States could explore possibilities of denying access of known violent settlers to the EU.

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