Wednesday

28th Feb 2024

Half of EU backs visa-ban on Israel's 'terrorist' settlers

  • Settler graffiti on Palestinian homes in Hebron, in the Israel-occupied West Bank (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)
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Almost half the EU backs imposing visa-bans on violent Israeli settlers, but Tuesday's (12 December) UN vote is likely to expose wider divisions on the Gaza war.

Some 13 out of 27 EU foreign ministers spoke out in favour of the visa bans in Brussels on Monday (11 December), diplomatic sources said.

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"No one [spoke out] explicitly against it at this stage," one EU diplomat said.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: "I cannot say that we had unanimity, but I haven't yet tabled any proposal. I will be doing so."

The EU blacklist, he said, will cover "persons who are known for their violent activities, their attacks against the Palestinians in the West Bank" — where settlers murdered at least nine people, injured dozens of others, and demolished several properties in the past two months alone.

Israeli soldiers have killed over 200 Palestinians, including more than 50 children, in the West Bank in the same time.

Belgium and Ireland have been the most vocal in pushing for settler sanctions.

The Irish foreign minister, Micheál Martin, spoke of "terrorist settlers" on Monday, who risked "provoking a further implosion in the West Bank, which is the last thing we need right now".

Israel can usually rely on its allies Austria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary to block painful EU initiatives.

But larger EU powers France, Germany, and Italy are on board after the US, Israel's main international ally, led the way by imposing settler visa-bans last Tuesday.

"The situation in the West Bank is worrying us, in particular because of the too numerous cases of violence committed by extremist settlers," French foreign minister Catherine Colonna said on Monday.

Borrell said he would list the settlers under the EU's existing "global human-rights sanctions regime" — a register of some of the world's worst rights abusers.

The EU visa-ban would be different from the US one, because the EU names banned individuals, giving them a chance to contest the decision at the European court in Luxembourg.

But for peace activists on the ground in Israel, extremist settlers are well known and well documented.

"We're not talking about random stone-throwers here. We're talking about settlers who take clubs to break bones and who throw molotov cocktails in organised attacks," said Yehuda Shaul, the director of Ofek, a Jerusalem-based think-tank.

The settler sanctions undermine Israel's narrative on the Gaza war — that it was caused by pure antisemitism and had nothing to do with Israel's violent occupation.

And in further criticism, Borrell said Israel's "apocalyptic" destruction of Gaza was already "the same if not greater than that suffered by German cities at the end of the war [WW2]".

Israel was killing an "incredible" amount of innocent people, he added, saying up to 70 percent of the 18,000 Palestinian deaths counted so far were civilians.

The real death toll was much higher, Borrell said, because many bodies were still lost in rubble.

And it looked like Israel was trying to push people out of Gaza for the long term, after forcing 1.8 million out of 2.3 million Palestinians to flee their homes, he said.

"Thousands of people are being pushed against the border with Egypt," Borrell said.

"People continue saying that they should not be expelled from their land, but it's difficult to continue saying that when people are escaping from bombing and looking for shelters, but there are no more shelters in Gaza," he said.

EU summit, UN vote

EU leaders will discuss Gaza and West Bank settlers at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

But draft summit conclusions seen by EUobserver didn't yet contain any Middle East statement — in a sign of ongoing division on the subject.

The last time EU leaders met, on 26 October, all 27 agreed to call for a "humanitarian pause" in fighting.

But the last time EU states voted publicly, in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on a resolution calling for a full "ceasefire" on 27 October, they split into three groups.

Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain voted in favour, while Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary voted against.

The other 15 (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden) abstained.

The UNGA will vote again on Tuesday on a new "ceasefire" resolution, with up to 120 or more out of the 193 UN states expected to back the text, as international support for Israel erodes.

The 15 UN Security Council members already voted on Friday, with 13 countries (including France and Malta) in favour, one abstention (the UK), and one veto (the US).

The US and Israeli line is that Israel can't stop the war until Hamas (the Palestinian group which rules Gaza and which attacked Israel on 7 October) is destroyed.

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