23rd Feb 2020

EU leaks on Jerusalem not enough, campaigner says

  • Silwan: 'In one or two years at most, the most sensitive places in East Jerusalem will become Israeli' (Photo: Brian Negin)

A leading activist against the expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem has castigated the EU practice of leaking reports and issuing statement after statement instead of taking action against Israel.

Meir Margolit, a Jerusalem city councillor and a member of the Jerusalem-based NGO the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, told EUobserver in a phone interview on Wednesday (8 December) that the EU should impose economic sanctions over the settlements if it wants Israel to take it seriously.

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"It's clear they [the EU] are not doing anything. They are waiting for instructions from the US. It makes me very angry - they are accomplices to the Netanyahu government. If they don't do something, and I am talking about sanctions, then history will not forgive them," he said, referring to the right-wing Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Margolit, who contributes research to an annual report on settlements drafted by the EU's embassies to the Palestinian Authority, said EU personnel regularly leak the paper as part of their Israel diplomacy.

"They have got the information, but they don't know what to do with it. To publish it is not enough," he explained.

The EU paper was leaked in 2008 and 2009. On Wednesday, French news agency Agence France Presse reported that the 2010 edition says: "If current trends are not stopped as a matter of urgency, the prospect of East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state becomes increasingly unlikely and unworkable." It added that efforts to promote the Jewish identity of the city over its Arab roots could "radicalise the conflict, with potential regional and global repercussions."

As in 2008 and 2009, the paper recommended that: EU diplomats in the region should host Palestinian officials without Israeli security corteges; discourage EU tour operators from patronising settler hotels; and turn up physically to support Palestinian families who risk eviction or demolition of their homes.

Meanwhile, one of several recent public statements on the subject by EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton on 9 November said: "Catherine Ashton is extremely concerned by the announcement by Israel of a plan for the construction of 1,300 new housing units in East Jerusalem."

Mr Margolit said that settlement expansion, especially in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan districts near the Old City in Jersualem, was accelerated after the election of President Barack Obama in the US due to fears amid settlers that he will push through a peace deal including final borders.

"If the government approves recent building plans [by settler groups], the Palestinians will lose Sheikh Jarrah for ever," he explained. "The situation is becoming irreversible. In one or two years at most, the most sensitive places in East Jerusalem will become Israeli. The Palestinians are being pushed out."

Some leading Jewish commentators, such as Rabbi David Rosen, the director of inter-religious affairs at the Washington-based American Jewish Congress, agree with Mr Margolit that religiously-motivated Jewish settlers are one of the biggest obstacles to peace. Mr Rosen said in an interview with EUobserver in November that pursuit of land amounts to "idolatry" in some cases.

The Israeli foreign ministry for its part says that Jerusalem, the eastern part of which Israel annexed following a war with neighbouring states in 1967, is the "indivisible" capital of the country and is not open to any negotiations.

The US earlier this week gave up on demands for Israel to extend its freeze on settlement expansion, auguring badly for the re-launch of Israel-Palestine peace talks suspended in September.

Behind-the-scene attempts by senior German national security advisor, Christoph Heusgen, in December last year to make a deal with the US to block settlements in return for Berlin blocking an anti-Israeli report in the UN also led nowhere.

"He suggested pressuring Netanyahu by linking favorable UNSC [UN Security Council] treatment of the Goldstone Report to Israel committing to a complete stop in settlement activity. [US diplomat] Gordon said that making a direct linkage between the two would almost certainly be counterproductive, but agreed that it was worth pointing out to the Israelis that their policy on settlements was making it difficult for their friends to hold the line in the UNSC," a leaked US cable on the subject said.

Correction: the original text said Israel annexed Jerusalem in the 1967 war, in fact only the eastern part was taken over in the conflict

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