For those who bash Israel, it is axiomatic that Israel is building illegal settlements in Judea and Samaria, otherwise known as the West Bank, against international law.
This is peddled ad nauseam by the EU and the myriad anti-Israel NGOs it funds, and is the basis of the EU’s policy of labeling goods from the “occupied territories.”
Yet astoundingly, the EU itself is behind the building of illegal settlements there.
Last year, it announced it was providing €3.5 million to fund infrastructure projects in Area C, the section of the disputed territories under Israeli control.
These settlements, which fly the EU flag and display its logo on their structures, are to be found in more than 40 locations in Area C. According to the Israeli NGO Regavim which maps this activity, between 2012 and 2014 more than 400 of them were constructed within the Adumim area near Jerusalem alone.
Under the Oslo Accords, Area C is administered by Israel. The EU settlements, constructed without Israeli permission and against Israeli zoning laws, are therefore illegal squatter camps.
Israel regularly demolishes these structures.
Last month, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nikolay Mladenov, complained to the UN Security Council that, since the beginning of this year, Israel had demolished on average 29 Palestinian-owned structures per week, three times the weekly average for 2015. “These actions run directly counter to the idea of peace,” he said.
The EU maintains that it is merely providing humanitarian aid for the Palestinians.
This is clearly disingenuous. The Arabs living in the disputed territories are not living in starvation or destitution, the proper focus of true humanitarian aid.
No, the EU has another objective in mind altogether – one it barely troubles to conceal.
It is using settlement construction to reshape demographic reality and undermine Israel.
It elides the “humanitarian imperative” with its belief that Area C would be “part of any viable future Palestinian state.” By assisting Arab development in Area C, it is creating facts on the ground to bring that state into being. Its officials actually say so.
When the EU announced its settlements funding program last year, Michael Köhler, the European Commission’s director for South Neighborhood, said it demonstrated the EU’s “solid commitment to support the Palestinian government in various sectors toward building a future Palestinian state.
Through this funding we are targeting Area C where the Palestinian Authority is facing serious limitations in promoting social and economic development of Palestinian communities there.”
The European Union Representative John Gatt-Rutter added: “Area C remains an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory and compromises crucial natural resources and land for a viable Palestinian state. Without this area, the two state solution – that we have invested in for years – will be impossible.”
This brazen mission creep is politicizing aid. The European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid requires “the autonomy of humanitarian objectives from political, economic, military or other objectives.” It other words, aid must not be used as a tool of foreign policy.
Some Eurocrats are troubled that, under the Lisbon Treaty in particular, that condition is generally becoming eroded. Funding the Palestinian settlements would seem to drive the proverbial coach and horses through it.
It is also illegal. Prof. Eugene Kontorovich from the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, says: “There’s no question, the EU is openly in violation of international law.”
This is because the Oslo Accords, an international treaty witnessed by the EU, give Israel exclusive civil jurisdiction over Area C. James Carver, a member of the EU Committee on Foreign Affairs, has also complained that the EU is helping violate the Oslo agreement. He adds that some of this construction is taking place in nature reserves in both Area C and the Negev where building is strictly forbidden and where it causes severe damage to the natural habitat.
Regavim has tried to take legal action against the EU on the basis that it is undermining international agreements. The EU has dodged court action, however, by claiming diplomatic immunity. Regavim suggests this itself may be improper, since the Vienna Convention states that in return for immunity against action by a state, diplomats must not “interfere in the internal affairs of that state.”
The breathtaking double standards by the EU and the NGOs it funds expose the humanitarian aid claim as transparently bogus. Oxfam, for example, claims that Israel is preventing Palestinians from building homes and schools, turning down virtually all building permit applications in Area C.
“Palestinian communities in Area C are some of the poorest in the West Bank,” said a spokesman. “The international community has a responsibility to support vital projects for marginalized communities in Area C, which are legal under international humanitarian law.”
But the EU and NGOs claim that Israel has the legal duty to provide for these Palestinians, while simultaneously maintaining that they have the right to interfere with that duty.
Moreover, Israel has repeatedly tried to provide precisely such assistance. It wanted to deal with the illegal Beduin shanty towns in the Adumim area by building them a town nearby with proper sanitation, housing, education and welfare services.
Yet whenever it attempts such initiatives, the EU and NGOs complain this amounts to “forced transfer” of the Palestinians.
This is more than a bit rich, considering that over the past few years France and Italy have deported tens of thousands of Roma to Romania, Bulgaria and Kosovo. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that France had violated the Roma’s human rights by these deportations.
The EU is making similar use of the Beduin to change the demographic reality within Israel itself. Dozens of EU-funded NGOs are helping the Beduin expand and solidify illegal settlements in the Negev and the Galilee. Regavim estimate that some 65,000 illegal structures had been constructed there by the end of 2012, with around 2,000 new ones being set up every year.
This strategy is linking thousands of such squatter communities across the northern Negev between Beersheba, Arad and Dimona.
This is creating, in effect, one contiguous illegal Beduin territory on indisputable Israeli sovereign land.
To give some idea of the scale of what is happening. Regavim estimates that while 205,000 residents in Beersheba inhabit only 3,500 hectares (8,650 acres) of land, 211,000 Beduin now lay claim to about 60,000 hectares (148,260 acres).
“Aid to the Beduin” is Palestinian Authority policy intended to expand its control over Area C and undermine Israel. It is quite obvious that the EU is not only assisting it in that aim but is also seeking to create a Beduin state within a state inside Israel itself.
Both the UN and the US condemn Israeli settlements as illegal and accuse Israel of expropriating Palestinian land. Yet they fail to condemn the EU for its illegal and colonialist activities.
Such outrageous and manipulative meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state incontestably illustrates the EU’s true agenda.
Through its illegal settlements policy, the EU is conducting a stealth war against Israel.Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times (UK).