The EU is building hundreds of illegal structures in the West Bank, which the government has not removed in order to avoid a diplomatic tangle with the Europeans, according to a report released Friday by the NGO, Regavim. The structures are being built near Ma’aleh Adumim and its E1 area.
This report is just one of a number the group – a right-wing organization which describes itself as a “research-backed, legal advocacy organization focused on land ownership issues” – has released in recent months.
According to Regavim, European Union support for the Palestinians has in recent years moved from “passive diplomatic and financial assistance to a situation of active cooperation in illegal building which the Palestinian Authority has been advancing unilaterally since 2000, as part of its strategic plan to create a Palestinian state de facto, while avoiding the need for negotiations with Israel.”
This week, prior to the release of its latest report, Regavim took journalists to look at a number of Beduin encampments straddling E1 as well as the Jerusalem-Jericho road. They are not temporary tent encampments as they were in years past, but rather clusters that – in addition to tents and tin shacks – also include modular structures with cement floors bearing the EU logo.
According to Ari Briggs, Regavim’s international relations director, the EU logo is placed on the structures in the belief that this will prevent Israel from demolishing them. Israel is not likely to take down a building with an EU logo, due to concerns over both public relations damage and the harm it could cause to relations with the EU, he said.
Maj.-Gen Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT), was in Europe this week holding talks with high-level EU officials. One diplomatic source said this issue was one of the topics of his conversations.
A COGAT representative, referring to the Regavim charge that it is reluctant to take down the structures because of EU involvement, said: “The civil administration acts against illegal construction, and no organization is exempt from enforcement.
COGAT has sent official letters to embassies and international organizations cautioning them against building illegally in Judea and Samaria.”
Regavim claims EU support for these structures is part of a Palestinian plan to gradually take control of large parts of Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank that, according to the Oslo Accords, is under full Israeli control.
The EU has for years increasingly focused on shoring up Palestinian development in this area, believing it vital to the viability of a future Palestinian state.
The EU-funded structures, according to Meir Deutsch, the director of Regavim’s policy and government relations department, are being placed illegally on state land, and in some cases in restricted nature reserves.
When Regavim appealed to the High Court in 2008 to compel the state to demolish illegal buildings in the area, it ruled that this could not be done until an alternative living arrangement was found for the Beduin living there. Israel then began planning a city – called Ramat Nueima – north of Jericho for some 12,000 people, a plan now adamantly opposed by the Palestinians and the EU.
In November, a meeting of EU foreign ministers issued a statement that, in addition to their usual condemnations of land expropriation and settlement construction, also slammed plans to “displace Beduin in the West Bank and the continued demolitions, including of EU and member states funded projects.”
The underlying idea behind the joint Palestinian/EU efforts in Area C, Briggs asserted, is to establish a permanent Palestinian presence on the state lands there. “This is great hypocrisy,” Briggs said. “Any time a building goes up for Jews, they raise an outcry, call it illegal and say it endangers peace. They are building illegal houses for Arabs.”
From 2012-2014, according to Deutsch, the EU – at the cost of millions of euros – has put up more than 400 structures.
In response, the EU said it is providing humanitarian assistance to communities in need in Area C in accordance with the humanitarian imperative; it is committed to supporting the development of Area C for the benefit of Palestinian communities; and it consults with the local communities themselves and the Israeli authorities where necessary.
According to a statement issued by the Office of the EU Representative in east Jerusalem, the EU is “deeply dismayed by and strongly opposes Israeli plans to expand settlements in the West Bank, including in east Jerusalem, and in particular plans to develop the E1 area.”
“The E1 plan, if implemented, would seriously undermine the prospects of a negotiated resolution of the conflict by jeopardizing the possibility of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states,” the statement read. “It could also entail forced transfer of civilian population.
In the light of its core objective of achieving the two-state solution, the EU will closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and act accordingly. The European Union reiterates that settlements are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace.”
James Carver, a British member of the European Parliament from the right-wing Euroskeptic Independent Party, is sending a letter Friday to his colleagues based on the Regavim paper slamming the EU’s policy.
In the letter, Carver wrote that the EU actions do not comply with the founding treaties of the EU. He said the structures are disrespectful of the rule of law, because the construction of the structures without the necessary permits is a “manifest violation of law.”
Clearly, he wrote, “EU member states would not allow such behavior within their own borders, nor would the EU endorse or find it anywhere within the European Union. So why would the EU do so outside its borders?” Secondly, he wrote, the buildings contravene the Oslo Accords, which give Israel full administrative responsibility and authority over Area C. “Any building constructed without such permit is illegal, and by endorsing such acts by the Palestinians, the EU is participating in a violation of the Oslo II Agreement,” he wrote.
Finally, Carver added, some of the structures are being built on nature reserves, where construction is forbidden.