Thursday

17th Jan 2019

Opinion

EU must act against 'Jerusalem Bill'

  • (Photo: Ted Eytan)

In response to handwringing and inaction by European leaders in the face of Israel's violations of international law, the Israeli government is emboldened to continue its illegal settlement expansion.

In recent months, the situation in Palestine has deteriorated considerably. Just last week, 176 new settlement units were announced to be built in occupied East Jerusalem.

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Systematic residency revocations for Palestinians in Jerusalem are forcing people out of their lifelong communities. And now, the Knesset is considering an unprecedented bill that would annex some of the West Bank's largest illegal settlements to Jerusalem.

Dubbed the 'Greater Jerusalem' Bill, it constitutes a de facto annexation of settlements built on occupied Palestinian land and regarded as illegal by international law and the European Union.

Among the settlements included in the bill is Ma'aleh Adumim, the largest settlement in the Jerusalem area and the Gush Etzion settlement cluster. The bill is sponsored by a member of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right–wing Likud party and enjoys his backing.

The Greater Jerusalem Bill is an exercise in demographic change through annexation. Under the bill, the settlements' over 150,000 inhabitants would be considered residents of Jerusalem, enabling them to vote in and sway municipal elections.

It will also downgrade the status of three Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, demoting the status of the approximately 100,000 Palestinians who live there - essentially creating Jerusalem's own Bantustans.

The bill's intention, according to its authors Israeli Knesset minister Yoav Kish and transportation minister Yisrael Katz, is two-fold: to increase the proportion of Jews to Palestinians in Jerusalem to ensure Jewish dominance of the city, and territorial expansion.

Katz openly expressed his intent for the bill to "ensure a Jewish majority in the united city and to expand its borders by adding 150,000 residents to the area of a greater Jerusalem," adding that it would serve as a response to all who question the Jewish people's right to the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of a Jewish homeland.

Demographic engineering

Demographic engineering is in clear violation of international law, as it uses manipulation of the makeup of the civilian population to accomplish political goals.

Currently, Palestinians make up nearly 40 percent the population of Jerusalem. If the bill passes, the addition of settler populations into Jerusalem's census will reduce that percentage to 32 percent.

It is a sinister way of ensuring that Jerusalem is washed of its Palestinian identity and, by extension, Palestinian rights and interests, while still calling itself democratic.

Enacting laws that are anti-democratic or violate international law, however, is not a rarity for Israel.

This February, the Knesset passed a law that retroactively legalises Israeli outposts built on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. International calls to abandon the 'Regulation Law' proved futile, as the Knesset rapidly moved to pass it.

In response, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini issued an uncharacteristically bold condemnation for the law, stating that it "crosses a new and dangerous threshold" and concluding that its implementation would "further entrench a one-state reality of unequal rights, perpetual occupation and conflict."

This condemnation once again fell on deaf ears, doing nothing to alter the trajectory of Israel's actions. Palestinian human rights organisations, including my organisation, the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC), warn that without concrete action, the Great Jerusalem Bill could face an eerily similar fate, with public outcry and condemnations proving to be little more than lip service that only delays the inevitable.

This should sound an alarm to European officials.

Not only do these actions undermine UN Security Council resolutions and EU Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, they erode the potency of international law as a whole. More so, they destroy the prospects of peace.

Despite discussions about renewing the peace talks, and the Palestinian reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo last month, measures like the Greater Jerusalem Bill undo any positive steps made toward solving the conflict.

Seize the moment

On Sunday, Israel's ministerial committee for legislation delayed its vote on the bill to reportedly allow time for "diplomatic preparation". European officials should seize the time offered by the delay to unequivocally condemn the Greater Jerusalem Bill and spell out real economic, political, and legal consequences of its passage.

This time, we need more than measured consideration and public statements. We need genuine action.

There are concrete steps officials can - and should - take to pressure Israel to act in accordance with international law. They include an end to preferential trade agreements so long as settlement activity continues and support for accountability mechanisms.

Given the serious prospect of annexation, the European Commission should immediately halt any discussion about holding the EU-Israel Association Council.

If the international community continues to remain silent in the face of Israeli violations, it will be very hard to undo the damage being done to the prospects of achieving justice and peace. European officials must stand tall and take the lead to stop the Greater Jerusalem Bill.

Issam Aruri is general director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center

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