A warning to Israel
MONDAY’S STRONG statement by EU foreign ministers on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict marked a significant and important shift in EU thinking on the stalled peace process, and appeared to signal a new level of engagement. After the meeting Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, going further, suggested that Israel may have until the autumn to respond positively to specific EU demands on illegal settlements, arrests, demolitions of buildings, and Palestinian economic deprivation, or possibly face measures such as an EU ban on goods from Israeli settlements.
Although hedged with standard expressions of the union’s longstanding concerns for Israeli security, and deploring rocket attacks from Gaza and the targeting of civilians, the ministers’ statement is remarkable both for its detailed demands on Israel and its sharp warning that the situation is in imminent danger of reaching a point when the commonly accepted eventual settlement, a two-state solution, would no longer be feasible.
“The viability of a two-state solution must be maintained,” the ministers insisted. “The EU expresses deep concern about developments on the ground which threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.” Specifically they “decried the marked acceleration of settlement construction” following a 2010 moratorium, what other have described as Israel establishing “permanentfacts on the ground”. And they specifically criticised evictions and demolitions in east Jerusalem, demanding the reopening of Palestinian institutions in the city, the “future capital of two states”.
“Settlements remain illegal under international law, irrespective of recent decisions by the government of Israel,” the statement insists bluntly. “The EU reiterates that it will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties .... All outposts erected since March 2001 should be dismantled.”
The Israeli army has also destroyed some €49.14 million worth of EU-funded development projects in the West Bank and Gaza over the last 10 years, according to EU Commission figures seen by Reuters.
The tone and detail of the statement reflect exasperation with both the Israeli government’s procrastination and the US’s at best half-hearted engagement with the issue. And it appears to mark a significant shift in thinking in Germany, until now, for understandable reasons of history, Israel’s most uncritical defender in the EU. Israel would do well to take note.