Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned Wednesday he would suspend security cooperation with Israel if it continued to take drastic steps with regard to settlement activity.
“If the colonization continues, I would have no other choice, it would not be my fault,” Abbas told France’s Senate during a visit to Paris.
He spoke to the senators just one day after he met with French President Francois Hollande and warned that the Knesset had violated international law by passing legislation earlier this week retroactively legalizing some 4,000-settler homes on private Palestinian property in Area C of the West Bank.
Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation in the West Bank has continued despite the diplomatic freeze between Jerusalem and Ramallah. While both governments view it as an essential ingredient to stemming West Bank violence, Abbas has in the past threatened to absolve it.
Knesset passes settlement bill on February 6, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians will continue to work with international tribunals against such activity and have asked that the UN Security Council enforce the resolution it passed in December against the settlements, Abbas told the French Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
Abbas cautioned that failure to act would lead to apartheid. “Why would the world agree to see us return to a system of apartheid in the 21st Century?” he asked.
Earlier in the day, Abbas described the settlements regulation law as “a major setback to peacemaking efforts and will undermine the two-state solution, which will have implications on the region and world in general,” in a letter to High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.
In Jerusalem, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) defended the legislation, which compensates Palestinians for land, that in many cases, they have not been able to access for decades.
“The legal principle of compensation is known in all western legal systems. And this principle that Israel adopted this week creates the right justice between the Palestinians and the Jewish families,” Hotovely said.
“The settlements law that the Israeli parliament passed this week reflects a just legal principle,” she added. Hotovely is among other lawmakers who believe that Area C of the West Bank will eventually be part of sovereign Israel.
“The underlying premise behind the critics of Israel is that this is occupied Palestinian land. This premise is incorrect. Israel has both historic and legal rights to this land and the law reaches the right balance between the rights of the Jewish families to their homes and the right of the owners of these plots of land to get compensation,” she said.
Area C is under Israeli military and civilian control, but is outside of sovereign Israel. French Ambassador to Israel Helene Le Gal told Army Radio on Wednesday morning that her country condemned the legislation.
“The land we are talking about is private land in the West Bank,” Le Gal said, noting that the territory was not within the Knesset’s purview and that it had no legislative powers there.
She was not impressed by the legislation’s provision to provide compensation to Palestinians for the property in question.
Le Gal noted that none of the actions, not the taking of the land nor the compensation offered, were done with the consent of the Palestinians.
“They didn’t agree on that” and “they were not even asked about it,” Le Gal said.
This should have been done through “true discussions with the Palestinians” and not with “unilateral decisions from the Knesset,” Le Gal said.
“There are no discussion now between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and that is why it is worrying,” she said.
The legislation “is not leading to peace,” nor to a two-state solution to the conflict, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pledged to support, Le Gal said.
She charged that Israel was creating facts on the ground that would make it more difficult to arrive at a two-state solution. This is what is “troubling the international community, and the international community is wondering if she should trust Israel,” Le Gal said.
How, she asked, should Israel weigh the settlements law, with statements by Israel that it is ready to hold talks “with its neighbors, the Palestinians, and to reach an agreement on the two-state solution.”
On the larger issues of France’s no-tolerance attitude to settlement construction, including in the blocs, she said that all such building can be accepted only through an agreement with the Palestinians.
“This question of the settlement blocs, it has to be discussed and decided by both parties. Now there is no discussion, only facts on the ground.”
France, like its European neighbors, believes that all settlement activity is illegal under international law.
France was one of the 14 out of 15 United Nations Security Council member nations to vote in favor of a resolution in December condemning Israeli settlement activity.
Le Gal refused to comment on the question of whether France would support another UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements.
The EU, the UN and the UK on Tuesday also issued harsh statements against the settlements law.
On Wednesday, the Germany Foreign Ministry also condemned the law and called on Israel to re-affirm its commitment to a two-state solution.
“Many people in Germany who stand firmly by Israel’s side in a spirit of heartfelt solidarity are disappointed by this turn of events,” the German Foreign Ministry said.
“The confidence we had in the Israeli Government’s commitment to the two-state solution has been profoundly shaken,” it added.
“Only a negotiated two-state solution can bring durable peace and is in Israel’s interest. It remains a fundamental tenet of our Middle East policy,” the German Foreign Ministry said.
“We hope and expect that the Israeli Government will renew its commitment to a negotiated two-state solution and underpin this with practical steps, as called for by the Middle East Quartet,” it said. This kind of statement is needed, the ministry said, because of the “disconcerting comments” made “by individual members of the Israeli Government, who have openly called for the annexation of parts of the West Bank and are preparing bills to this end.”
A “question of credibility” has been raised, it added.
The United States has yet to issue a response, with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer explaining to reporters that the matter would be discussed with Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump met in the White House on February 15.
US Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said on twitter, “Israel’s brutal bill to legalize outposts will lead to the takeover of the West Bank, making a two-state solution impossible.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said that the legislation was not a license to seize land and was intended to deal with homes that had already been constructed.
He also noted that the Palestinian Authority did not give Palestinian landowners the freedom to decide what to with their land, since it considers the selling of land to Jews a crime punishable by death.Reuters contributed to this report.