UN official: Sussiya demolition would be sign of Israeli annexation goals

Mladenov focused in particular on Israeli activities in Area C of the West Bank, particularly settlement building and the IDF’s continued demolition of illegal Palestinian structures.

August 29, 2016 20:37
Nickolay Mladenov (C), the United Nations Secretary-General Special Representative to the Middle Eas

Nickolay Mladenov (C), the United Nations Secretary-General Special Representative to the Middle East, looks at Israeli soldiers during his visit to the West Bank city of Hebron November 4, 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

An Israeli demolition of the Palestinian village of Sussiya would be seen as a sign of its plans for a de facto annexation of Area C of the West Bank, a high level UN official told the Security Council in New York on Monday.

“The demolition of this community would set a dangerous precedent for displacement and feed the perception that Israel aims at a de facto annexation of Area C,” said Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

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In his wide-ranging report, Mladenov chastised both Israelis and Palestinians for their actions in Gaza. He spoke against Palestinian extrajudicial killing and in support of the upcoming Palestinian elections in October.

Mladenov, however, focused in particular on Israeli activities in Area C of the West Bank, specifically settlement building and the IDF’s continued demolition of illegal Palestinian structures, including in Sussiya.

The small unauthorized herding village in the South Hebron Hills – whose fate will ultimately be determined by Israel’s High Court of Justice – has garnered intense international attention. Both the United States and the European Union have warned Israel not to take it down.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has yet to provide the High Court with the state’s opinion on the matter and is not expected to do so until after the US election in November.

The court case comes as the international community, including the UN, has increased its focus on IDF demolitions of illegal Palestinian structures and building in Area C of the West Bank, and in Israeli-Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem that area located over the pre-1967 lines.

Palestinians in both areas are “disproportionately denied Israeli building permits” and at the same time the rate of demolitions has increased, Mladenov said.

Some 43 structures were demolished in east Jerusalem in the last two months and the IDF took down over 91 structures in 26 communities in Area C, Mladenov said.

“The Beduin in Area C are particularly vulnerable. Some communities, such as the herders in Sussiya and those in the controversial E1 area around east Jerusalem are particularly at risk,” Mladenov said.

Right-wing politicians and activists have charged that the Palestinians have increased illegal construction in strategic portions of Area C, as part of a deliberate Palestinian Authority plan to increase its hold on Area C in any final status agreement for a two-state solution.

Mladenov, in contrast, told the UNSC that Area C demolitions were part of an attempt by Israel to pressure the Palestinian herders and Beduin to move out of those areas.

For years in Sussiya, he said, “planning schemes submitted by the residents to the Israeli authorities have been repeatedly rejected, while the neighboring settlement has been granted a generous planning scheme, and the nearby illegal outpost, is connected to water and electricity networks.” Mladenov also took issue with Liberman’s new “carrot and stick program” that punishes Palestinian communities, where terrorists live, while economically rewarding those towns and villages without a history of violence toward Israelis.

Such a plan, Mladenov said is tantamount to collective punishment.

“While measures that generate economic opportunities for some Palestinians are helpful, they cannot come at the cost of what may amount to collective punishment for others, or undermine the legitimate Palestinian institutions and aspirations for ending the occupation,” Mladenov said.

In addition, Mladenov delivered a sweeping condemnation of Israeli settlement activity, including attempts to retroactively legalize West Bank outposts. He compared those unauthorized structures on isolated West Bank hilltops with Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.

“Let me be clear: no legal acrobatics can change the fact that all outposts – whether ‘legalized' under Israeli law or not, whether located on state land, absentee land or private Palestinian land - just like all settlements in Area C and East Jerusalem, remain illegal under international law,” Mladenov said.

This includes, he said, efforts to legalize the Amona outpost, as well as the advancement of Jewish building plans and the approvals for such new homes in east Jerusalem, he said.

The Quartet — the UN, the EU, the US and Russia — have “clearly condemned” the “expanding Israeli footprint” in the West Bank, he said.

“It is difficult to read in these actions a genuine intention to work towards a viable two-state solution,” Mladenov said.

His comments about Jewish building over the pre-1967 lines in Jerusalem struck a nerve with the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

Netanyahu's spokesman David Keyes slammed Mladenov's comments, saying that the UN official “made peace harder to achieve by distorting history and international law before the Security Council.”

Keyes said that it is not the presence of Jews in the West Bank and Jerusalem, where they have lived for thousands of years, that is a barrier to peace.

Rather, he said, “it is the unceasing efforts to deny that historical connection and a refusal to recognize that Jews are not foreign to Judea. The claim that it is illegal for Jews to build in Jerusalem is as absurd as saying Americans can't build in Washington or the French can't build in Paris.”

Keyes said that the Palestinians “demand to ethnically cleanse their future state of Jews is outrageous and should be condemned by the United Nations, instead of being embraced by it.”

The UNSC meeting in New York was held only hours after the Civil Administration razed three illegal structures in the Beduin village of Ma’azi Jaba in Area C of the West Bank, just outside of Jerusalem.

The Civil Administration said it had previously destroyed illegal structures in the same village.

“Despite previous enforcement measures being issued, the owners of these buildings proceeded with constructing the buildings again, ignoring prior orders issued and enforcement measures carried out in this location,” the Civil Administration said. “Each of the enforcement measures were carried out after all the orders were issued.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that 11 structures have been removed. The IDF took down eight structures and forced the Beduin owners to take down another three, according to OCHA. Five of the demolished structures were residential, three were animal shelters, two were kitchens and one was used as a sitting area for guests, it said.

Some 28 people were displaced, including 19 children, OCHA said, adding that “All the structures were built following the last mass demolition in the community, which took place on 31 August 2015.”

Herb Keinon contributed to this article

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