Thursday

14th Dec 2017

EU report blames Israel for Jerusalem violence

An internal EU report heaps blame on Israel for last year’s violence in Jerusalem, contains dire warnings on the two-state solution, and recommends sanctions. But they’re unlikely to be implemented.

Relative calm has returned to Jerusalem.

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  • Hebron: the future of Jerusalem? (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, told EUobserver on Tuesday (24 March) that “there are thousands of tourists in the Old City … I’d highly recommend that you come and walk around the streets. They’re extremely safe”.

He added that “every Friday, some 30,000 or 40,000 Muslims come to pray on Temple Mount with no incidents whatsoever”.

He noted that “once in a while” police have to remove Jewish or Arab activists who break the rules. He gave the example of Arabs who “shout ‘Allahu Akbar!’ and try to stop visitors, including also Christians by the way” from entering the holy site.

Things were different last year.

The EU report, compiled and endorsed by the 15 member states which have embassies in Ramallah, Palestine’s temporary capital, and seen by EUobserver, describes it as “one of the most troubled years in Jerusalem since the end of the Second Intifada [Palestinian uprising]”.

It notes that violent clashes caused 2,069 Palestinian and 168 Israeli injuries - more than five times higher than in 2013 or 2012.

There were also 19 fatalities - compared to just one in 2013 and 2012.

In one incident on 2 July, a Palestinian boy was kidnapped and murdered. On 22 October, a Palestinian man drove his car into Israeli pedestrians, killing two people. On 17 November, a Palestinian driver was found hanged in his bus. On 18 November, Palestinian men killed five Israelis in a synagogue.

Rosenfeld, the Israeli spokesman, said the violence was linked to last year's Gaza war.

But the EU report says the “root causes” are: “increased settlement activity, demolitions [of Palestinian homes], provocations and tension at the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount and the lack of economic and political prospects for 38 percent of Jerusalem’s inhabitants [its Palestinian population]”.

It adds that “while the trends described in this report are not new” the “tensions, mistrust, and violence in the city … have reached extremely high levels”.

“If root causes … are not addressed, the likely outcome is a further escalation and the extreme polarisation from which Jerusalem suffered during the second half of 2014”.

It also says that “unless action is taken urgently to address these issues, 2014 may prove to be a water-shed moment in a process leading to the loss of … perspectives for peace based on the two-state vision”.

It makes 40 recommendations.

Most of them are local initiatives, such as sending diplomats to court hearings on Palestinian evictions. But some of them amount to EU sanctions.

The report urges “measures against known violent settlers and those calling for acts of violence, as regards immigration regulations in member states”. It says EU capitals should encourage corporate divestment by raising awareness of “risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements”.

It also calls for “steps to ensure that consumers in the EU are able to exercise their right to an informed choice in respect of settlement products”, referring to a potential EU code on retail labels.

Settlements

Some of last year’s settlement decisions make Palestinian hopes of getting their own state look dim.

A plan to build 2,610 new homes in Givat Hamatos will, “if implemented”, form “a belt of settlements, effectively cutting off [Palestinian] East Jerusalem from [Palestinian] Bethlehem and the southern part of the [Palestinian] West Bank”.

Expansions in the E1 area in the Jerusalem periphery threaten to cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank and to cut the West Bank “into separate southern and northern parts”.

Other decisions foment the toxic atmosphere.

The EU report says the take-over, by radical settler groups, of nine houses in the majority-Palestinian Silwan neighbourhood is “fuelling tensions”.

Meanwhile, the timing of the settlement announcements indicates that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, re-elected last week, doesn’t want two states.

One announcement, on 19 March, was made at a “sensitive moment” in peace talks. Another one, on 1 April, was made amid “emergency meetings” on the talks. The talks collapsed later the same month.

The report adds that Israeli restrictions on Palestinian businesses, freedom of movement, education, healthcare, and access to municipal funds also have a “severe psycho-social impact”.

It says 75 percent of Palestinians live below the poverty line and 35 percent can’t find a job.

Palestinians are allowed to build on just 13 percent of East Jerusalem land and Palestinian districts get just 12 percent of municipal funds. The result is overcrowding, “poor roads, little or no street cleaning, limited sewage systems … in sharp contrast to areas where Israelis live”.

Temple Mount

The Gaza war, mentioned by the Israeli spokesman, saw Israeli forces kill more than 2,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and saw Palestinian forces kill 71 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

But another new element, the EU report says, were Israeli “provocations” at Jerusalem’s holiest place.

It notes that “almost on a daily basis, settlers and national religious activists … ascended onto the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount under the protection of Israeli forces” and that “on several occasions extremists tried to raise the Israeli flag … and chanted offensive slogans”.

The report also says “the number of high-profile and provocative visits by members of the Israeli political establishment” are “a particular cause of concern”.

It warns the actions risk creating a “religious dimension” to the territorial conflict.

It also warns that security measures, which saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians blocked from praying at the holy site last year, “raise serious concerns about the possible application of the existing ‘model’ in Hebron … to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount”.

The old town of Hebron, the most populous Palestinian city in the West Bank, which also hosts a Jewish shrine, is divided into a mozaic of secure zones, including “red” roads where Palestinians aren’t allowed to walk.

The importance of Temple Mount to the conflict was made clear by a high-level Israel-Jordan-US meeting in Amman last November.

It led to an accord which limited the number of Israeli visitors to 10 at a time, lifted restrictions on Muslim prayer, and criticised “Israeli extremists”.

The number of violent incidents in Jerusalem after the meeting fell to almost nil.

No EU sanctions

An EU diplomat based in the region told EUobserver the report “doesn’t give the assessment that it [the violence] can explode again at any time”.

He also said: “We don’t claim that Palestinians are always innocent victims”.

But he noted “it’s clear that the situation in East Jerusalem calmed down when the restrictions on al-Aqsa [another name for Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount] were lifted. Those restrictions were counter-productive”.

The contact said the report’s local-level recommendations, for instance on court cases, are being implemented.

He added that the UK unilaterally imposed visa bans on some radical settlers. But he said the move is “less straightforward” for the 22 EU states which are members of the passport-free Schengen Area because if they red-flag someone all the other Schengen countries are obliged to keep them out.

A second EU diplomat based in Brussels said an EU-level visa ban is even less likely.

He noted that since Israeli police almost never convict violent settlers the EU has no legal basis on which to exclude them and no mandate to conduct its own investigations.

A third EU diplomat, who is familiar with the German point of view, said the fact the German envoy in Ramallah signed off on the EU report doesn’t mean that Berlin supports visa bans.

“The question which operative conclusions will be drawn out of this report is not yet fully answered, but subject to discussions within the [EU] Council … the position Germany takes in these discussions is and will be defined within the federal government”, he noted.

“[Germany] sees several ways to communicate the fact that the settlements are violating international law and making it more difficult to agree on the two-state solution”, he added.

“However, sanctions and boycotts are not [Germany's] means of communication in this respect.”

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