EU quiet over Israeli land expropriation

Israel’s settlement building has been met with little protest by the so-called “international community”: The Israeli settlement of Har Homar near Jerusalem is expanded on land confiscated from Palestinian owners in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, April 2006. (Magnus Johansson/MaanImages)

BRUSSELS, Oct 10 (IPS) - Representatives of the European Union’s two most powerful institutions remained silent this week on new efforts by Israel to expropriate Palestinian villages, triggering accusations that the bloc’s Middle East policy suffers from double standards.

During a 10 October debate in Brussels, speakers from the Portuguese government, which holds the Union’s rotating presidency, and the European Commission did not refer directly to the Israeli order to seize control of four Arab villages located between East Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Jericho.

Their reticence drew angry response from some members of the European Parliament, the EU’s only directly-elected body.

“As Palestinians see all hope of a viable Palestinian state disappear before their eyes, what is the EU going to do?” asked Chris Davies, a British Liberal MEP. “You know very well it will do nothing, except mouth a few words. There will be no tangible action.”

Davies described statements of concern by Portugal over the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza as “sanctimonious claptrap.” He also alleged that the EU is being hypocritical by “demanding” that Palestinians display high democratic standards, while only “requesting” that Israel does so.

In June, the European Commission announced details of a 60 million euros (85 million dollars) emergency aid package for Palestinians within the occupied territories, as well as refugees in Syria and Lebanon.

Yet Davies said it was not Europe’s responsibility to provide “our taxpayers’ money” to provide the heavily impoverished civilians in Gaza with basic sustenance. “Gaza has been turned into an Israeli police camp,” he said. “Israel should be responsible for keeping the 1.5 million people there alive.”

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European commissioner for external relations, said that some EU-funded projects in Gaza have had to be suspended because Israel had banned the import of spare parts for hospitals and water pumps. Attempts to help civilians have been hampered by how Israel has sealed off Karni — a crossing on the Israeli-Gaza border that is vitally important to the Palestinian economy — for the past four months.

Nonetheless, she said that the EU has been able to provide social allowances to 35,000 families in the West Bank and Gaza.

She also said that she was “cautiously optimistic” that a peace conference to be hosted by the US next month will have positive results. She welcomed the US willingness to invite leaders from Syria and Saudi Arabia to attend that conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has signaled he is not in favor of Syria’s participation, arguing that he would prefer the discussions to focus on Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, rather than with Syria. Bishar Assad, the Syrian President, has indicated he will not attend unless the conference addresses the question of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

Portugal’s minister for European affairs Manuel Lobo Antunes argued that worsening poverty in the occupied territories is “radicalising” young people, creating a “vicious circle that we should now break.”

He contended that Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President, are taking “courageous and encouraging steps” by entering into dialogue.

But Italian left-wing MEP Luisa Morgantini said that Olmert must lift the blockade on Gaza. “That would be courageous,” she added.

Referring to the confiscation of land between East Jerusalem and Jericho, she said: “The EU should reject this collective punishment inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people.”

Danish deputy Margarete Auken argued that the EU’s decision to freeze contacts with the Islamist party Hamas after it swept to victory in parliamentary elections last year demonstrated “double standards, as well as incompetence.”

“Israel has closed down the borders [to Gaza] and made it impossible to have any semblance of an economy,” she said. “You can’t separate the economic from the political. There should be an end to Israeli settlements, otherwise you will never have peace. Older Palestinians are issuing repeated warnings that Palestinians will never live peacefully beside Israelis when they see Israelis as soldiers that exterminate their parents.”

Charles Tannock, a British Conservative, was one of the few MEPs to defend Israel.

He noted that the EU has placed Hamas on the list of its proscribed terrorist organizations and claimed that Israel has been “acting with restraint.”

Irish Socialist Proinsias De Rossa accused Tannock of doing “Israel a disservice with his unquestioning support for Israel’s illegal actions.”

De Rossa argued that Israel’s latest land grab is in breach of the “road-map,” a 2003 peace plan supported by the EU, the US, the United Nations and Russia.

French Green Helene Flautre voiced frustration that “everyday there are murderous incursions by Israel and yet there are still people within the European Parliament who deny that Israel is an occupying power.

“We have got to insist that Israel lifts the blockade of the Gaza Strip as soon as possible,” she told EU governments and the Commission. “What measures will you take to force Israel to respect its obligations?”

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