24th Mar 2018

EU 'mumbles and grumbles' on Israeli settlements

  • Arab homes being demolished while Jewish settlements expand (Photo: Nasser Nawaj'ah)

EU “regret” on Israel’s new settlement surge will be seen as empty “mumbling and grumbling” in the Donald Trump era, diplomats say.

The EU foreign service on Tuesday (24 January) said it was “regrettable that Israel is proceeding with this policy, despite the continuous serious international concern and objections”.

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  • Settlement expansion could provoke violence, experts warned (Photo: Ted Eytan)

It added that settlement expansions “seriously undermine the prospects for a viable two-state solution” and were “illegal under international law”.

The EU spoke after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the green light to almost 3,100 new housing units for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which Israel won by conquest in 1967.

Over half a million settlers now live on Palestinian land, which is being sliced into isolated chunks as the Jewish towns and outposts spread.

Netanyahu’s announcement briefly deflected Israeli media attention from a corruption scandal that could see him pushed out of office.

It was also designed to please far-right elements in his Likud party and in the Jewish Home party in the ruling coalition, which wants to "annex" vast swathes of Palestinian land.

The 3,100 new homes, described by the Palestinian Authority as a “provocation”, were also greeted as a “disappointment” by the Yesha Council, a settler group, which had wanted a higher number.

Trump pro-Israel

The new wave of expansion comes after the election of Donald Trump in the US, a pro-Israeli hawk, who has said he might move the US embassy from Tel Aviv, Israel’s UN-recognised capital, to Jerusalem, which is claimed by both Israel and Palestine, and which the EU and UN say ought to be shared.

Netanyahu will meet Trump in Washington in early February if the Israeli leader survives the corruption affair.

But if the US, Israel’s main financial and security sponsor, gives it a free hand to keep snatching Palestinian land, then EU statements, like the one on Tuesday, will be seen by Israel as little more than “mumbling and grumbling”, a European diplomatic source told EUobserver.

The EU last year published new retail label guidelines designed to stigmatise settler products in European shops.

But EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini is not working on any further measures and has quashed calls by EU states’ ambassadors in Palestine to take a tougher line, diplomatic sources said.

Aalon Ben Meir, a scholar of Middle East affairs at New York University, told EUobserver that if Trump went ahead with the Jerusalem embassy idea, then the “EU should raise its voice loud and clear, as this will potentially create major turmoil throughout the Middle East [and] kill whatever is left of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process”.

He advised the EU to hold off on any potential “sanctions” on Israel until Trump clarified his intentions.

He added that the EU’s voice still “resonated to some extent” in Israel and that if it went further on settlement expansion, then Europe must “put Israel on notice that these activities … can potentially create a new wave of violence” in the region.

EU criticises Trump's Israel embassy idea

EU foreign relations chief Mogherini has warned that if Trump moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem it could have “serious consequences”.

EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'

EU leaders demanded a permanent exemption from US tariffs on steel and aluminium - and ruled out any bilateral trade talks within the 1 May deadline set by Donald Trump.

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