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16th Apr 2024

Palestine says EP chief endorsed Israeli 'apartheid'

  • Erekat wrote to Schulz because 'the issue is very grave' (Photo: US-Islamic World Forum)

Saeb Erekat, a leading Palestinian diplomat, has accused Martin Schulz, the European Parliament (EP) president, of endorsing Israel’s “apartheid” regime in the West Bank.

Erekat, Palestine’s chief negotiator in Arab-Israeli peace talks for the past 20 years, made the comments in a letter to Schulz on 15 January, seen by EUobserver.

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He wrote after Schulz, a German socialist, earlier the same day in Berlin, met with Yuli Edelstein, the Israeli parliament speaker.

Schulz told Edelstein, who is himself a settler, that an EU code, published last year, on labelling of exports from settler farms and factories will "harm Palestinian workers who make a decent wage there".

Schulz also noted that Sweden, one of Israel’s fiercest EU critics, had “bad relations” with Israel, “unlike Germany.”

Erekat’s letter said: “By adopting the Israeli narrative, your statement is tantamount to supporting the Israeli settlement enterprise, a war crime under international law.

“You have contributed to Israel’s culture of impunity.”

Erekat added: “We are surprised that, as president of the European Parliament, you seem not to be aware of the cost of the Israeli occupation for Palestine. Every year we lose at least $8 billion.”

He said settler exports are made “on stolen land with stolen natural resources” and that Palestinians are “forced to buy our own water from an Israeli company. This is a reality of Apartheid.”

Armin Machmer, Schulz’ spokesman, told EUobserver on Monday (25 January) that Schulz will reply to Erekat in due course.

He noted that Schulz, at the Berlin meeting, first outlined the EP’s official position, which supports the EU labelling code. He said Schulz’ other remarks were made “in a purely personal, private capacity”.

Erekat’s reference to water comes after Schulz prompted Israeli outrage in a 2014 speech in the Israeli parliament by asking how it was that Palestinians in the West Bank got so little water compared to the settlers.

'Very grave issue'

Israel, for its part, doesn’t agree with the UN or the EU that its presence in Palestine constitutes "occupation". It says the land is “terra nullius” - no man’s land - under law because Palestine was never a state.

It also says EU pressure on settlement expansion doesn’t help because it emboldens Palestinian hardliners.

A Palestinian contact told this website that Erekat, who will also chair future peace talks if they resume, wouldn’t normally write to the EP.

“But the issue is very grave from our perspective,” he said.

The number of Israeli settlers, already more than half a million people, is growing by 16,000 a year, putting in doubt the viability of a future Palestinian state.

Israeli authorities last week also said they would take ownership of hundreds of hectares of land near the Palestinian city of Jericho, prompting even friends of Israel including Germany to complain.

The German government said it was “dismayed” by the decision, which it described as “the largest such move in 18 months”.

It comes despite the fact that EU foreign ministers, also last week, threatened to take “further action” against settlement expansion.

Among other provisions, they promised “to ensure that ... all agreements between the state of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967”.

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