Thursday

20th Sep 2018

EU diplomats feel helpless on Israel violence

  • Soldiers on patrol in Israeli-occupied Hebron (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

EU diplomats say their normal channels of communication are ill-equipped to calm the violence, while Israeli and Palestinian officials trade blame on "incitement".

The new surge in Arab knife attacks, Jewish counter-attacks, police shootings, and other crackdowns has left EU diplomacy feeling helpless.

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"We sympathise with civilian victims on both sides and our envoys on the ground [in Israel and Palestine] are speaking with officials. But that's the problem - we're talking to officials while the situation is unfolding outside the official context", a senior EU source told this website.

"The violence is taking place at the level of individuals. It's breaking down human relationships between the two sides", he added.

"The breakdown is so severe, we even had a case of a Jewish man who stabbed another Jewish man because he thought he was an Arab".

For his part, David Walzer, Israel's envoy to the EU, laid the blame on Palestinian leaders.

He told press in Brussels on Wednesday (14 October) the situation intensified when they called for protests against Israel's decision to block access, on security grounds, to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem.

"Israel has no intention whatsoever to change the status quo on the Temple Mount", he said.

"The Palestinian leadership chose Al-Aqsa as a means to draw attention to their cause ... [now] they cannot control the aftermath of the fire they set".

"Palestinian leaders are fostering the current wave of violence by depicting it as a legitimate form of popular resistance", he added.

Citing one example, the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists on Tuesday wrote to the EU ambassador in Tel Aviv urging him to halt financial aid for The Palestinian Bar Association.

The bar gave a posthumous degree to Muhannad Al-Halabi, a student who killed two Jewish Israelis before police shot him.

It also called him a "martyr".

But for Xavier Abu Eid, a senior aide to Palestinian leaders, the Israeli authorities caused the breakdown.

"I'm a Christian. But I also feel offended by the closure of Al-Aqsa", he told EUobserver from Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital, on Wednesday.

"People speak of an intifada [the Arab word for uprising] only when Israelis are affected. But Palestinians are affected every day by violence".

"Settlers attack them with impunity. Where are the killers of Ali Dawabsheh? They're happily living in their settlement", he added, referring to an arson attack, in July, which killed a Palestinian infant.

"If a settler wants to kill a Palestinian, they just claim he had a knife, then they shoot him".

There is also Israeli incitement.

Yinon Magal, an MP, recently said Arabs should be driven out of Israel, as they were in 1948.

Buzzilla, an internet consultancy, told Haaretz, an Israeli daily, it found 30,000 conversations calling for violence against Arabs on sites like Facebook and Twitter in the first week of October, compared to 10,000 the week before.

Peace talks

Walzer, the Israeli ambassador, noted that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has told EU officials he wants to resume peace talks.

"He has explicitly said that he is ready to return to the table without any preconditions".

But Abu Eid said Palestinians have lost faith in high-level diplomacy.

He said envoys from the Quartet, a UN body handling the conflict, were wrong to cancel their visit to Israel this week.

"There was some hope they could bring something to calm the situation. Then Netanyahu phoned them and they said they're not coming".

He urged EU capitals to listen to their own people on the ground.

"The report by the EU heads of mission [in Ramallah], which was leaked to press in March, said very clearly there'll be violence if the situation stays the same", he said.

"They proposed some steps. But what happened? Nothing. As usual".

The EU report noted that 2014 was already "one of the most troubled years in Jerusalem since the end of the Second Intifada [in 2005]".

Deaths foretold

It spoke of a "vicious cycle of violence" and "mutual mistrust", amid a "background" of settlement expansion, Israeli "provocations" on Al Aqsa, and "lack of economic and political prospects" for Palestinians.

"If the root causes of … violence are not addressed, the likely outcome is further escalation", it warned.

Its proposals included sanctions, such as EU visa bans on known violent settlers. But they weren't taken up.

The EU is planning to publish a non-binding code on how European retailers should label settler goods in an attempt to put pressure on settlement building.

But the senior EU source said publication is unlikely until the current violence subsides.

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European retailers must say “product from … Israeli settlement” on wine, food, or cosmetics from over the green line, the Commission has said, prompting Israeli outrage.

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