Palestine urges EU to blacklist Jewish 'terrorists'
Palestine has asked the EU to blacklist violent Jewish settlers as "terrorists", in what Israel is calling "a PR stunt".
The Palestinian foreign minister, Riad Malki, wrote to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on 11 May to complain that settler groups, called "price tag" and "hilltop youth", are attacking people in the West Bank to "forcibly transfer them away from their land and homes".
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He reported a "sharp increase" in incidents, called "price tags" because they are meant to exact a price for anti-settler activities.
"In the last month alone, these … included vandalising Muslim and Christian cemeteries, beating children, attacking women with pepper spray, launching raids against villages, inscribing racist graffiti, torching cars."
He accused the Israeli army of giving them "protection".
"We call upon you [Ashton], who has regularly condemned such attacks, to take the only decision possible as regards 'price tag' and 'hill-top youth' by considering them as terrorist groups, with all the political, legal, and financial implications such a decision holds," he said.
Decisions on the EU blacklist are made by members states’ intelligence officers and interior ministry officials in Brussels every six months.
The latest list, from February, names eight Palestinian entities, including Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
If the EU listed a Jewish group, it would represent a sea change in Middle East politics, following decades in which "terrorism" has been used to label exclusively Arab actions.
Malki’s letter is carefully worded to match the EU definition of "terrorist" offences.
It is being studied by Ashton's staff. But for his part, Jean-Claude Piris, the former head of the EU Council’s legal service, told this website: “In my view, it would not be absolutely legally impossible, should there be a political will, to list such groups under article 1(3) of common position 931/2001.”
The EU is divided on recognising Palestinian statehood.
But Piris said the terms of the EU article are "wide enough" to cover crimes such as "intimidations of the population, attacks upon the physical integrity" of non-state actors. “A thorough motivation of the listing, and the seriousness of formal evidence justifying it, would be legally essential," he added.
Meanwhile, Israel does not believe the EU will take Malki seriously.
Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, called his letter "a PR stunt".
He said settler attacks are not designed to displace Palestinians, but to cause trouble for Israel if it takes steps against settlers. He also said the vast majority of settlers are law-abiding people.
"Anyone who knows anything about the price tag activity knows Israel is the actual target," he noted.
"It remains disappointing to see the Palestinian leadership pursuing conflict, through, in this case, a cheap stunt, rather than getting down to the serious business of negotiating a settlement."
Hirschson spoke after Israel broke off peace talks on grounds Palestine aims to form a unity government with the "terrorist" Hamas.
Softer on Hamas
How the EU responds to Malki remains to be seen, but it is taking a softer line on Hamas than Israel wants.
EU foreign ministers last week "supported intra-Palestinian reconciliation" on condition the unity government renounces violence, even if Hamas' old charter continues to call for armed resistance.
John Gat-Rutter, the EU's head of mission to Gaza and the West Bank, also told EUobserver Hamas is more moderate than its rhetoric.
"I think there's an opportunity to move Hamas in the direction that we have wanted to move it. There's an opportunity to embark on a process … where we will come to a stage where there is a readiness [for it] to commit to those principles," he said, referring to UN powers' principles on a negotiated settlement.
Militants fired 69 rockets at Israel from Gaza last year, compared to 2,557 in 2012.
Israel says Palestinians in the West Bank attacked Israeli targets 1,271 times in 2013, causing six deaths.
Malki says settlers attacked Palestinians 650 times in the past nine months. His aides say Israeli soldiers killed 61 Palestinians in the same period.
This story was amended at 10.30am Brussels time on 19 May to add quotes from Jean-Claude Piris