European foreign ministers likely will discuss the growing tension with Israel over their support for Palestinian development of Area C of the West Bank when they meet in Brussels on Monday, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post.
The members of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council also are expected to restate a number of established positions with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But it was unclear as of Saturday whether the statement the council will issue at the end of its meeting would speak of new action, either with respect to additional clarifications on its policy of only recognizing Israel at the pre-1967 lines or in regard to Area C.
The European Union has been fairly public in the last few years about its financial support for illegal Palestinian construction in Area C, including the placement of its logo on those structures.
Any statement issued by the council must have the unanimous support of all 28 member states.
Tensions have been particularly high between the EU and Israel since the November publication of its consumer guidelines with regard to marking products produced over the Green Line as “not made in Israel.”
Speaking to the foreign press in Jerusalem on Thursday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a “reset” in Israel’s relationship with the EU, but he also slammed the product labeling as “abhorrent” and warned that EU support of illegal Palestinian construction was a “clear attempt to create political realities” in the West Bank.
On Wednesday, Avivit Bar-Ilan, director of the Foreign Ministry Department for European Organizations, warned that the EU was weighing whether to demand monetary compensation from Israel for illegal Palestinian structures that the IDF demolished even though they were funded by the EU.
Area C of the West Bank, where all the settlements are located, is under full Israeli military and civilian control.
All construction and development of that area falls under the authority of the civil administration.
The EU believes Israel’s presence there is illegal and that Palestinian development of that area is vital to the Palestinian economy.
As the peace process faltered and then froze altogether, the EU has increased its efforts to help the Palestinians develop that area, including supporting illegal construction.
It believes such efforts are the kind of humanitarian aid allowable under international law.
In the past year, the non-governmental group Regavim has lobbied against such building, and last Sunday brought politicians to the area of Ma’aleh Adumim so they could see for themselves the extent of the EU-supported construction. It has estimated that, from 2012 to 2014, some 400 modular structures were built in Area C with the EU’s help.
On Wednesday, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee subgroup on Judea and Samaria debated EU support of illegal Palestinian building, as well as the IDF’s failure to halt it.
Bar-Ilan told the group her office has brought up the matter with the Europeans on a regular basis.
MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi) seemed surprised. “Why are we letting EU equipment into Area C?” she asked. “Why aren’t we confiscating it? “You are talking and talking. I have never heard so many words that amount to nothing. Such behavior is intolerable. If you can’t do your work, you should return your keys [to the office],” she added.
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) charged that the EU was “blatantly creating facts on the ground” with the aim of helping the Palestinians create a state without negotiations.
The matter needs to be dealt with at the policy level and the responsibility for it rests with the government, Oren said.
MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) who chairs the FADC subgroup said the responsibility for lack of enforcement with regard to EU-funded projects and illegal Palestinian construction as a whole lay with the IDF.
“Officers in uniform are not doing their job, and we will insist on a commission of inquiry to deal with it,” Yogev stated angrily.
The lack of policy has simply allowed for a situation of lawlessness, he added.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal Palestinian homes were built on state land in Area C of the West Bank, Yogev claimed, saying the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria “has abandoned that territory.”
“This is simply construction terrorism directed by the Palestinian Authority with funding from the European Union that amounts to €110 million annually,” Yogev said.
The EU has also supported the illegal construction of Palestinian infrastructure, such as roads, in Area C, Yogev charged.
Representatives of the civil administration, the Foreign Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office for Judea and Samaria took issue with Yogev’s words.
Civil administration deputy head Uri Mendes said his office is cracking down on illegal Palestinian building and destroying all such structures, save for those that are the subject of legal cases or are protected by a court injunction.
He explained that there is a fair amount of illegal building on the part of both Israelis and Palestinians in Area C.
In 2014, 904 illegal structures were built, of which 408 were destroyed, Mendes said.
Merav Ettinger, the legal adviser for the Judea and Samaria police, in turn, was not pleased with his comments.
“Enforcement [of building laws] is a top priority for us. We are disappointed that the civil administration has not asked for more help from us on this matter,” she said.