28th Feb 2024

EU 'shocked' by Israel's war-time settler surge

  • Israeli settler in the centre of Hebron, Palestine's most populous city (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)
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EU and Arab states have redoubled calls for the creation of a Palestinian state after the war, while voicing outrage at new Israeli settlements.

"Almost all" the attendees at Gaza-war talks held in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday (27 November) agreed on the need to revive the two-state solution, EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell said.

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As a first step to normality after fighting ends, the Palestinian Authority (PA) should take over rule in Gaza as the only "viable" way to avoid a "power vacuum", he added.

Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi said: "My friends, Europe has a crucial role to play ... the two-state solution cannot remain a talking point".

Most of the 42 EU and Arab delegations also called for the extension of a three-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which was due to expire on Tuesday.

"The only sure result [of further escalation] is more destruction, radicalisation, and further conflict at the expense of Palestinian lives, as well as regional security, including that of Israel," said Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.

Israel boycotted the EU-chaired meeting, with its EU ambassador, Haim Regev, saying it risked being just "another international forum in which Arab states bash Israel".

And Germany's foreign minister Annalena Barbock said in Barcelona the "fact that Israel has to fear one-sided hostility here and is therefore not taking part today shows how deep the rifts are at the moment."

"That is precisely why I am here today, even though these meetings were not previously given a high profile by Germany," she said.

Meanwhile, Israel was making matters worse, Borrell said, by announcing tens of millions of euros worth of new settlements in the West Bank in the middle of the fragile truce with Hamas.

"I am shocked to learn that in the midst of war, the Israeli government is willing to allocate new funds to build new illegal settlements," he said on social media.

"This is not self-defence and will not make Israel safer. Settlements are a serious violation of IHL [international humanitarian law] and pose the greatest threat to Israel's security," he added.

He also condemned "violence spread by extremist settlers in the West Bank, many times under protection from the Israeli police and military".

Palestinian group Hamas started the latest round of warfare when it killed some 1,400 Israelis in a dawn raid on 7 October. Israel has killed almost 15,000 Palestinians in Gaza in the past seven weeks and over 400 in other areas.

Meanwhile, more than 700,000 Israeli settlers have moved onto Palestinian land in the Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank since Israel conquered them in 1967.

And that has made what's de facto left of Palestine into an archipelago of disconnected towns and farms managed by the PA and funded by the EU, its principal international donor.

Borrell is to present a more detailed post-war plan to EU foreign ministers when they meet for the last time this year in Brussels in December.

It will deal with "stabilisation and the post-conflict process in Gaza," the European Commission said in Brussels, also on Monday.

There will be "more involvement from the Arab states and more involvement from the European Union" in Gaza in future, Borrell's spokesman said.

"This is what we intend to do and we hope any bilateral issues will not stand in the way," he added, referring to a dispute between EU countries Belgium and Spain and Israel last week.

Israel summoned the Belgian and Spanish ambassadors last Friday to reprimand them for imputedly giving "support to terrorism".

It did so after Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo and Spanish prime minister and EU-presidency holder Pedro Sánchez accused Israel of crimes in Gaza.

"We cannot accept that a society [Gaza] is being destroyed the way it is being destroyed," De Croo said while visiting Egypt.

Sánchez condemned Israel's "indiscriminate killing of civilians" and said Spain might unilaterally recognise Palestinian statehood if the EU did not do so as a bloc.

Palestine has "non-member observer state" status at the UN since 2012.

Nine EU countries already recognise Palestine bilaterally, but most of these are former Soviet-bloc countries that took the step before joining the EU.


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