Action needed to follow words

What the European Union says

Since her appointment in December 2009, Catherine Ashton, as High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, has made a large number of statements on a broad range of foreign policy issues. A substantial number of them relate to the situation in Palestine and Israel, a region she is rightly interested in.

The situation in the region also features regularly in the Conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council.

As a member of the Quartet, the EU has an important role in the region and Catherine Ashton has a high profile in the Quartet. She visits the region regularly; according to her statements she has made at least 5 visits to the region since her appointment. This does not include the meetings with decision-makers from the region on other occasions.

In all, there have been 66 statements between February 2010 and December 2011 (her statements, statements by her spokesperson and references to the region in Council Conclusions). They range from general topics (announcing key appointments in the EEAS relating to the region, visits, and meetings with decision-makers) to very specific issues (notably: the international Flotilla to Gaza, the Gaza blockade, prisoners, settlements and settlement expansions and specific incidents of violence).

This represents some 26 per cent of all the statements on the situation in Palestine and Israel from these sources. Some of these are specifically about settlements; some are more general and contain statements about settlements. The following are the relevant paragraphs from each of them (emphasis: QCEA):

10 March 2010

‘The EU condemns the decision by the Government of Israel to build new housing units in East Jerusalem. Israel should reverse this decision. The EU calls upon the Israeli authorities to fulfil all their commitments and obligations vis-à-vis the peace process and to refrain from unilateral decisions and actions that may jeopardize the final status negotiations. The European Union reiterates that settlements are illegal under international law. They undermine current efforts for restarting peace negotiations, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.’

24 March 2010

‘The European Union condemns the recent decision of the Israeli authorities to authorize construction around the Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem. The international community is making every effort to facilitate the resumption of peace talks. Settlement construction in East Jerusalem is illegal and undermines these efforts. The EU calls on Israel to reverse this decision.’

30 June 2010

‘I am deeply concerned by recent settlement-related activity in East Jerusalem and the recent unrest in Silwan. I recall that the European Union has never recognised the annexation of East Jerusalem. Settlements and the demolition of homes are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. If there is to be genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states.

I would like to call on Israel to refrain from measures which may undermine the ongoing proximity talks. These talks enjoy our full support and the parties need to engage seriously in these negotiations.’

27 September 2010

‘I regret the Israeli decision not to extend the moratorium on settlements. We are examining the consequences of this decision and consulting with the parties and our Quartet and Arab partners.

The Quartet welcomed Israel’s moratorium and the positive atmosphere it created for the negotiations. Both Palestinians and Israelis have an obligation to act in accordance with previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap. The position of the EU is very clear: settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.’

29 September 2010

As I have said, the EU regrets the Israeli decision not to extend the moratorium on settlements. During my visit I will reiterate the call for both parties to act responsibly and choose the path of peace. There is no alternative to a negotiated solution.’

1 October 2010

Those of us engaged in the process have been very concerned that the ending of the moratorium puts at risk the possibility of long term peace. I have urged Israel to continue the moratorium in order to allow the talks more time to make progress.

I regret that so far they have chosen not to.’

9 November 2010

‘Catherine Ashton is extremely concerned by the announcement by Israel of a plan for the construction of 1300 new housing units in East Jerusalem.

This plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed.

Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. Catherine Ashton recalls that the European Union will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties.

If there is to be genuine peace, all final status issues must be resolved through negotiations, including the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states. Catherine Ashton continues to call on both parties to create an environment conducive to the resumption of direct negotiations.’

8 December 2010

‘I note with regret that Israel has not been in a position to accept an extension of the moratorium as requested by the US, the EU and the Quartet. The EU position on settlements is clear: they are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace. Recent settlement related developments, including in East Jerusalem, contradict the efforts by the international community for successful negotiations.’

9 January 2011

‘I strongly condemn this morning’s demolition of the Shepherd Hotel and the planned construction of a new illegal settlement. I reiterate that settlements are illegal under international law, undermine trust between the parties and constitute an obstacle to peace. Furthermore, we recall that East Jerusalem is part of occupied Palestinian territory; the EU does not recognise the annexation by Israel.’

19 February 2011

‘I note with regret that it was not possible to reach consensus on the resolution on settlements at the United Nations Security Council. The EU position on settlements, including in East Jerusalem, is clear: they are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace and constitute a threat to a two-state solution.

Now we need to do everything possible for the urgent resumption of negotiations between the parties. More than ever all efforts must converge towards a peaceful solution that will preserve Israel’s security and realise the Palestinians’ right to statehood. I will be in contact with all the parties in the next days to encourage the resumption of negotiations in line with the commitments made recently by the Quartet.’

6 April 2011

‘I am deeply disappointed by the approval of 942 new housing units in the Israeli settlement of Gilo, East Jerusalem. The EU is also closely following upcoming plans for settlements on the Mount Scopus Slopes, in Har Homa C and in Pisgat Ze’ev. These plans may further damage an already fragile political environment.

I reiterate that the EU considers that settlement activities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law, undermine trust between the parties and constitute an obstacle to peace.

The actions taken by the Israeli Government contravene repeated and urgent calls by the international community, including the Quartet, and run counter to achieving a peaceful solution that will preserve Israel’s security and realize the Palestinians’ right to statehood. If there is to be genuine peace, a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states.’

12 August 2011

‘It is with deep regret that, once again, I received information of the publicly stated intention of the Israeli government to continue settlement expansion in East Jerusalem.

The EU has repeatedly called on Israel to end all settlement activity, including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001.

Settlement activity threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution and undermines on-going efforts to resume negotiations.’

27 September 2011

‘Last Friday, the Quartet called on the Israelis and Palestinians to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are to resume and be effective, and reiterated the obligations of both parties under the Roadmap.

I therefore deplore today’s decision to advance settlement expansion in East Jerusalem with approximately 1000 new housing units in Gilo. I call on the Israeli authorities to reverse this plan.

The EU has repeatedly called on Israel to end all settlement activity, including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001. Settlement activity threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution and raises questions about Israel’s stated commitment to resume negotiations.’

10 October 2011

‘3. The EU deplores the recent Israeli decision to advance settlement expansion in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo, which runs counter to the Quartet’s efforts. The EU also calls upon both sides to avoid steps that run counter to the Quartet’s efforts to restart negotiations.’

2 November 2011

‘I am deeply concerned by the latest Israeli decisions to expedite settlement activities in response to Palestinian accession to UNESCO.

Israeli settlement activity is illegal under international law including in East Jerusalem and an obstacle to peace. We have stated this many times before.

We call on Israel to reverse this decision and call on both sides to continue their engagement with the Quartet on advancing peace efforts.’

20 December 2011

‘I wish to express my strong disapproval of the Israeli authorities’ announcement that they intend to publish tenders for the construction of some 1000 housing units in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem. I urge them not to proceed with this publication.

The EU’s position is clear: settlement construction is illegal under international law and further complicates efforts to find a solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By ensuring the suspension of the publication of these tenders, the Israeli government can contribute positively to these efforts.’

What the European Union does

Well, not very much to enforce the position of the international community and of the EU itself, and I quote from most of the statements above that: Settlement activity is illegal under international law including in East Jerusalem and an obstacle to peace.  It threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution and raises questions about Israel’s stated commitment to resume negotiations.

It is staggering to think that a community of 27 countries representing 500 million people and 25 per cent of the world’s GDP and 20 per cent of the world’s trade cannot be more effective in supporting its talk with action.

Whilst the handwringing goes on, the EU continues to trade with Israel far in excess of its trade with the Palestinians.

To look at recent figures as published by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Trade:

 

From EU to

To the EU from

 

Israel

Palestine

Israel

Palestine

Goods (2009)

11.4 billion €

52 million €

8.8 billion €

7 million €

Services (2009)

3.7 billion €

None

3 billion €

None

Foreign Direct Investment (2007)

3.5 billion €

None

6.3 billion €

None

Financial support under European Neighbourhood Policy (information from Progress Reports)

2 million € (per annum)

550 million € (2007)

487 million €

2008)

353 million € (2009)

378 million € (2010)

Research Framework Programme 7

Participation in 973 projects from 2007 to date

Participation in 30 projects from 2007 to date

What these figures do not show is what proportion of the trade with Israel involves the illegal settlements. This trade may be a small proportion of the trade overall, but it is still important to note that there are no legal obstacles to products from illegal settlements coming into the EU or for EU business exporting to illegal settlements.

It could be argued that if the EU actually means what it says, i.e. that these settlements are illegal under international law and that they are an obstacle to peace (and given the words that is, indeed, what the EU is saying) then trade with any enterprise or individual in the illegal settlements or benefitting from their existence and continued expansion should be made illegal in the European Union.

A Question to the External Action Service

Given the extent of the concern, and the many statements to this effect, what is the EEAS intending to do to back up its policy with effective action to prevent any trade between any business, public authority, or individual in the European Union with the illegal settlements?

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About Martina Weitsch

Martina worked for Quaker Council for European Affairs as one of two Joint Representatives from 2002 to October 2012. Her main areas of work were the EU role in Palestine/Israel, EU peacebuilding, conflict prevention and crisis management, EU finances, democratic accountability and relations with the European Investment Bank.
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