BRUSSELS, 8 September — Israeli settlement expansion would kill hope for an agreement towards the establishment of two sovereign States existing side by side peacefully, experts told the International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, which concluded this afternoon.
Titled “Settlements and the two-State solution”, the session was the last plenary of the two-day conference, convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People with a view to examining the role of the international community, European Union guidelines on import and labelling of goods produced in Israeli settlements and action by parliamentarians, civil society and local authorities.
Delivering presentations were Martina Anderson, Chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council in Brussels; Hugh Lovatt, Coordinator for Israel/Palestine at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London; Daniel Seidemann, Lawyer and Founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem in Tel Aviv; and Anat Ben Nun, Director of Development and External Relations of Peace Now in Tel Aviv. Martin Konecny, Director of European Middle East Project in Brussels, served as a discussant.
Ms. Anderson, speaking via Skype from Strasbourg, France, said that the European Union had a vital role to play in creating an environment towards a genuine Middle East peace process. The bloc was the biggest financial contributor to Palestine and, at the same time, Israel’s biggest trading partner. The Union’s relations with Israel were governed by the Association Agreement, which allowed for preferential trade between them. Article 2 of the Agreement stated that relations must be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles. The Union’s failure to react appropriately to Israel’s breaches of its commitments sent that country a message that its violations of basic principles of human rights were tolerated.
She had written to Federica Mogherini, the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, about a suspension of the Agreement on the basis of Israel’s violations of Article 2. Unfortunately, the responses were vague. She said that Ms. Mogherini had indicated a preference for a “structured dialogue with Israel on these matters”. Ms. Anderson would meet Mogherini later this evening and would raise the issue again. Unfortunately, the Union allowed the Palestine situation to worsen by acting as a mere bystander watching the erosion of the two-State solution. Suspending the Agreement essentially meant the Union abiding by its own rules.
Such a suspension would force Israel to address its breaches of human rights in the Occupied Territory, she said. In July 2013, the Guidelines for European Union funding and eligibility for Israeli entities and their activities in the Occupied Territory were published as a result of pressure by civil society and members of the European Parliament.
In general, the Union’s position on occupation was far from consistent, she said. The Union had introduced trade, economic and diplomatic sanctions on the Russian Federation for its annexation of Crimea. Conversely, after nearly five decades of Israeli occupation of Palestine and various other breaches of international and humanitarian law, the Union remained Israel’s largest trading partner, with 20 per cent of that nation’s total exports going to the bloc’s market. A good place to start would be the implementation of European Union Guidelines on labelling products coming from the Occupied Territory. More importantly, such products coming from settlements should be banned on the basis that these were illegal.
Unfortunately, the current Parliament had moved further to the right, making it more difficult to rally unified support for robust resolutions condemning Israel’s consistent violation of international and humanitarian law.
Mr. Lovatt said that the Union had at its disposal a highly effective — yet underused — tool to challenge the set of calculations underpinning Israel’s public support for the status quo. The tool was its legal obligation of not recognizing an illegal annexation. Over the past years, the Union had taken numerous steps to ensure greater implementation of non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Palestinian territory and of Israeli settlements. One consequence was a nascent policy of differentiating between Israel and its settlements within European Union-Israeli bilateral relations. That differentiation policy led to creation of guidelines for funding, businesses and labelling of goods.
The Union’s differentiation requirement bumped up against Israeli efforts to erase the Green Line, he said. There were other areas where differentiation should be applied, including charities, documents and dual nationals. Differentiation was a long road ahead, but it already had legal infrastructure and political mandate. In July 2015 Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions, the Union expressed its commitment to ensure that all agreements with Israel must unequivocally and explicitly indicate that they did not apply to the territory occupied by Israel in 1967.
Given that a meaningful peace process was unlikely to resume any time soon, it was increasingly difficult for the Union to justify slowing down the implementation of differentiation in order to not “rock the diplomatic boat”, he said. Ultimately, the more that differentiation had built up its own momentum, the more that would impact Israeli calculations towards continuing the occupation. That example should also be followed by other regional groups such as the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR).
Mr. Seidemann, discussing a possible demise of the two-State solution, said that the viability of that solution hinged on the number of settlers that needed be relocated. In 2007, that number was about 116,000. In 2015, that number exceeded 150,000, and at the current pace of settlement expansion, it would grow by 5,000-10,000 annually. In the 1990s, Israel accepted a larger number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union States.
He said whether “a point of no return” had already been passed depended on the answer to the next question: did Israel have the political will and material resources to relocate approximately 150,000 settlers, along with the additional numbers that would accrue in the years to come? Since June 2014, no tenders for settlement projects had been issued in Jerusalem, and according to leaked information, he said, the Israeli Government was holding the issuance of tenders to concentrate on the Iran nuclear issue. But tenders may resume next month, jeopardizing the two-State solution. Resolving the settlement issue was a “life-saving procedure”, he said.
Ms. Ben Nun said that her organization, Peace Now, had identified settlements as a major obstacle to peace and, therefore, monitored and analysed settlement developments, exposing those to the eyes of the public and stakeholders. In her view, the two-State solution was still possible despite an increase in settler population and was the only real possible solution as it offered both peoples the right to self-determination. The two-State solution was still supported by a majority of both populations. Given that settlers represented only 4.4 per cent of the Israeli population in the West Bank, only 1.8 per cent of Israeli population would be evacuated under an agreement. A small percentage of the Israeli and Palestinian population must not determine the reality of the entire region.
It was necessary to ensure the viability of the two-State solution “on the ground”, she said. While settlement plans and tenders were visible, there were other methods of changing the reality on the ground, such as land declaration and allocation, infrastructure development and ideological tourism. For instance, the so-called “Lieberman Road” had created a suburb near Jerusalem by cutting travel time to the city to 10 minutes from 40 minutes. As a result, the settlement population along the road had increased 70 per cent.
Peace Now had educated the public in Israel, generating public debate, protesting settlement developments and engaging in legal struggle. From 2005 and 2012, there had been no new outposts created due to the combination of international and local efforts, including her organization’s legal battle.
Mr. Konecny, a discussant, explained how political context affected the adoption of the non-recognition principle in cases including Crimea and Palestine. As for the Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea, the Union had introduced sanctions while focusing on the implementation of existing legal tools to deal with Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Some representatives of civil society organizations took the floor, with one calling for the protection of Palestinians in Iraq and other places who did not get much attention, with another speaker proposing to place violent Israeli settlers on the international list of terrorists.
The representative of Malta sought elaboration on “a point of no return”, while Jordan’s delegate asked if there was an alternative to the two-State solution.
Shawan Jabarin, General Director of Al Haq, stressed the importance of using peaceful measures to make occupation costly.
Mr. Lovatt said differentiation was not a tool only for the European Union. Other organizations could use it. MERCOSUR had had a favourable trade agreement with Israel but had not applied differentiation.
Mr. Seidemann said there was no alternative to the two-State solution. If it was to fail this time, it would come up a generation later because occupation was unsustainable. Regarding “a point of no return”, it was not possible to determine when that would come.
Ms. Ben Nun said she was ashamed of the Israeli Government’s policies but not ashamed of being an Israeli. The two-State solution was in Israel’s interest as well.
Mr. Konecny said that political leadership could make a difference.
Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine to the United Nations in New York, said that the political process was dead and there was nothing positive regarding the question of Palestine. To save the two-State solution, Palestine was making a modest request for Israel to stop settlement activities. Because settlements were a huge obstacle to peace, stopping such practices was the prerequisite for opening the door to the political process.
The Security Council must take action in that regard, but if the body failed to do so, a backup plan would be to hold an international conference to end the settlements, he said. A failure would give extremists a chance. Because there was no justice for Palestinians, extremists could recruit fighters from among them. If the situation became gloomier, uncontrollable religious conflict would start in Jerusalem.
Fodé Seck, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, congratulated all on a successful conference and declared the meeting adjourned.