18th Mar 2018

EU struggling to keep up with Israeli settlement plans

  • Jerusalem: E1 and Givat Hamatos will cut off the holy city from the rest of Palestine (Photo: RonnyPohl)

EU countries in the UN Security Council have condemned Israel's plan to build in the E1 area, while the EU foreign service has criticised plans for a new settlement in Givat Hamatos.

The British ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, on Wednesday (19 December) in New York read out to press a joint statement by the four EU countries on the UN Security Council - Britain, France, Germany and Portugal.

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It said the E1 plan "would risk cutting off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and could also entail the forced transfer of civilian population," referring to the future of the 290,000-or-so Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem.

It added that "Israel's announcements to accelerate the construction of settlements send a negative message and are undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate." It also said they are "detrimental to any international efforts to ... secure a two-state solution" and urged it to "rescind" its decision.

Ten other UNSC members - Azerbaijan, China, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa and Togo - published similar statements on Wednesday.

They left Israel in a minority of 14 to one, with its ally, the US, the only UNSC member to stay on its side, in a situation recalling Israeli-US isolation in a UN vote last month on upgrading Palestine's status.

In a separate development also on Wednesday, the EU foreign service criticised Israel for saying it will build 2,610 housing units in the Givat Hamatos area.

Speaking for the 27 member states, EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton said: "This plan for Givat Hamatos would cut the geographic continuity between Jerusalem and Bethlehem [in the Palestinian-run West Bank]."

She hinted that EU punitive action might follow: "The EU will closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and act accordingly."

EU diplomats have in the past mooted restrictions on settler-made exports and travel bans on settler radicals.

They were always blocked by pro-Israeli countries in the EU Council. But Germany and The Netherlands recently lurched away from the pro-Israeli camp, leaving the Czech Republic as its only reliable friend.

The E1 and Givat Hamatos plans are getting special attention because they will split Palestine into three cantons and take away its capital.

But Israel earlier this week also said it will build 1,500 new units in the Ramat Shlomo settlement and 1,000 new homes in Givat Ze'ev, Har Homa, Karnei Shomron and Efrat. It is expected to give the green light to more building in the Mordot Gilo South settlement on Thursday or Friday, while settler groups say they want 20,000 to 50,000 more housing units on Palestinian land in the coming years.

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday in Jerusalem thumbed his nose at critics.

"We are going to build in Jerusalem for all its residents, this is something that has been done by all previous governments and this is something that my government will continue to do ... Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years," he told press.

His UN ambassador in New York, Ron Prosor, held up a big map of Israel at his press briefing, saying: "What about Israel's contiguity? What about Jewish contiguity?"

He added that EU diplomats should be talking about scud missiles in Syria or the Muslim militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon instead of the Israeli settlements.

Apart from its nods to the presence of Jews in Jerusalem since Biblical times, Israel has said it is building settlements in retaliation against Palestine's recent initiative to become a UN "observer state."

But Israeli commentators say that another motive is Netanyahu's bid to get right-wing votes in elections in January.

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