The Jerusalem Report 2010 sees EU severely criticizing Israeli policies

, by Nelly Tsekova

The Jerusalem Report 2010 sees EU severely criticizing Israeli policies

Recent hotel demolition for a new settlement project in East Jerusalem provoked international criticism. A document put together by the EU heads of mission based in Jerusalem and Ramallah accuses Israel of undermining the Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem

Hopes crumbled to dust

On January the 9th the Jerusalem Municipality demolished a wing of the Shepherd Hotel in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in order to make way for 20 Jewish settlements. The move is the latest part of a plan to expand Jewish settlements in the area. Settlement growth in East Jerusalem has been one of the issues halting direct negotiations between Israel and Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership. Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since the end of September 2010, when a 10-month Israeli moratorium on the construction of Jewish settlements expired.

The demolition was followed by a wave of international criticism. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the move, stating it “undermines chances for peace with the Palestinians”. In turn, EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reiterated that “the EU does not recognize” the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel and also expressed concern for recent violence in the West Bank. Concerned Palestinians’ reaction didn’t take long to ensue. “By doing this, Israel has destroyed all the US efforts and ended any possibility of a return to negotiations,” says Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

East Jerusalem - Bone of contention

The Shepherd Hotel was built in the 1930s and was once home to Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who became an ally of Adolf Hitler in World War II. Its current ownership is contentious - Israel says it belongs to a Jewish-American property developer Irving Moskovitz while Palestinians claim it was seized illegally after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 during the Six-Day War. Some 190,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem and adjacent areas of the West Bank against 250,000 residing Palestinians.

EU policy towards Middle East – just wishful thinking?

Throughout the years EU’s policy towards the Middle East has had low impact on shaping the two-state peace process. EU involvement has often been criticized for being more about issuing declarations rather than offering real conflict resolution measures. The Jerusalem Report 2010 however takes on a rather different note. In an unprecedented openly critical tone EU warns that Jewish settlement activity in East Jerusalem jeopardizes the two-state solution and complicates further the conflict in the region. The first part of the report gives details on construction and expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem, the infringement of human rights of Palestinian residents living there, as well as unequal access to education and health services. “Israel’s attempts”, states the report, “to exclusively emphasize the Jewish identity of the city were threatening to "radicalize the conflict, with potential regional and global repercussions.” According to the document such policies were also harming East Jerusalem’s “crucial role” in Palestinian “political, economic, social and cultural life, and causing it to be increasingly isolated from the rest of the occupied West Bank”.

EU presence when houses are demolished, as well as court hearings attendance dealing with demolitions or evictions and “EU intervention when Palestinians are arrested or intimidated by Israeli authorities for peaceful cultural, social or political activities in East Jerusalem” are some of the measures proposed in the report. The report ends with a list of recommendations such as suggesting EU officials “to regularly host Palestinian officials” at their offices in East Jerusalem and to avoid having Israeli officials or security accompanying them on visits to the city’s eastern sector. Also, EU tour operators are advised to avoid settler businesses in East Jerusalem, such as hotels and archaeological sites run by settler groups. Every coin has two sides

In response to the accusations Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bureau issued a statement saying that the Israeli government was not involved in the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel, adding that the building of apartments on the site corresponded with Israeli law. “Actions taken at the Shepherd Hotel were done by private people corresponding with Israeli law”. Foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor went even further, exposing the report as “dishonest” and “based exclusively on Palestinian versions and figures.”

A step backwards

Leaving illegal or not aside, one thing is certain - with this initiative the hope of any progress towards two-state conflict resolution is once again put on hold. This is disappointing as 2011 was thought to be a key year for finally making certain headway in the negotiating process. European criticism of Israeli policy and settlements on occupied Palestinian land is no news. But the negative conclusion drawn in the report could put pressure on the strained EU-Israel relationship. EU’s role is therefore becoming more and more critical as an active but nevertheless objective intermediary. The EU’s policy vis-à-vis the Middle East has to rely on strategic vision and approach and show real commitment to reaching a solution satisfying both parties’ interests. Resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict should be a strategic priority in EU’s foreign policy as it’s the key to solving other problems in the Middle East.

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