Only a few international law experts would defend Israel's fervent settlement constructions on occupied Palestinian land. Yet there has been little interest from Western powers to pressure Israel to cease its illegal activities. Without US and European funding it would have been nearly impossible for Israel to build settlements and transfer more half a million Israelis over the years to live on stolen Palestinian land, in violation of numerous international laws including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Worse still, trade with European and other countries sustained and flourished these same illegal settlements, at the expense of Palestinians who have suffered massive ethnic cleansing campaigns since 1967.
At last, EU diplomats in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are speaking out in unequivocal terms. In a report, released February 27, the diplomats resolved that "settlement construction remains the biggest single threat to the two-state solution. It is systematic, deliberate and provocative."
Moreover, "the report called for strict application of an EU-Israel trade pact to ensure products from settlements do not receive preferential treatment under the accord in European markets," said Reuters. The report called on EU states "not to support ... research, education and technological cooperation" with settlements, and to "discourage" investing in Israeli companies that operate in the occupied territories.
The report, as would be expected, is non-binding. Even if such recommendations are considered, Israel and its EU friends and lobbyists are likely to find many loopholes to somehow deprive any EU action of substance and vigor. The fact remains that without civil society action focused on turning up the heat against European governments, especially die-hard supporters of Israel such as the British government, it is most likely be business as usual with Israel.
The real political and moral crisis does not only lie in Israel's flaunting of international law, but because the supposed guardians of international law are the very ones empowering Israel to carry out bad deeds, which include disempowering and bankrupting Palestinians. Last January, an Oxfam report said that the Palestinian economy, which is currently in utter disarray, could generate urgently needed income (US$1.5 billion to be exact) if Israel eased restrictions in the Jordan Valley alone. But without suitable access to their own land and to water sources, Palestinians in the valley continue to agonize, while Israeli Jewish settlers are thriving.
While the United States government has done everything in its power to undermine Palestinian rights, defend Israel at any cost and ensure Israel's superiority and military edge over all of its neighbors combined, the EU has falsely acquired a more balanced reputation. Nothing can be further from the truth.
In a recent report, the Palestinian human-rights group Al-Haq emphasized that trading in produce grown in settlements alone had "directly contributed to the growth and viability of settlements by providing an essential source of revenue that allows them to thrive." The reported value of total EU trade with illegal Jewish settlements amounts to approximately $300 million annually. The volume may appear small if juxtaposed with the some $39 billion, the total trade between the EU and Israel reported in 2011 alone. But that means, according to Dalia Hatuqa, writing for Al-Monitor on January 17, "the EU has some room for leverage given it is Israel's largest trade partner, and it receives some 20% of total Israeli exports."
What is equally important and disturbing to the actual value of the trade is the very idea that Europe is ultimately taking part in the subjugation of the Palestinians and the funding of Israel's illegal occupation and its massively growing settler population. No amount of diplomatic 'recommendations' or newspeak can ever challenge or alter that fact.
Discussing settlement growth in a vacuum is also misleading, as it is disconcerting to talk about boycotting settlements, while supporting the main organs that ordered or sanctioned them in the first place. To differentiate between products made in Israel or those made in the settlements is absurd at best. The settlers are not self-sustaining structures operating as autonomous regions, but are considered part and parcel of the so-called Israel proper. There is little distinction in the eyes of the Israeli government between settlers from Ma'ale Adumim or residents of Tel Aviv except in the imagination of those who may recognize Israel's horrific practices but are too timid to confront them.
Israel, meanwhile, excels in pushing limits. By doing so it continues, although inadvertently, to expose the hypocrisy of its friends and ever-so-careful detractors. Yigal Palmore of the Israeli Foreign Ministry responded to the EU report with belittling terms. "A diplomat's mission is to build bridges and bring people together, not to foster confrontation. The EU consuls have clearly failed in their mission," he said.
While the report accurately spoke of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to develop more settlements in the area known as E1, which is "set to cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank," there is unlikely a turning back from the construction plans, which include the building of 3,000 settler homes in the land corridor near Jerusalem. Nothing is random in Israeli planning and the final scene, as is already the case in various parts of the occupied territories, will make Palestinians unwanted irritants on their own land.
Yes, Israel is unrelenting and seems to have no regards whatsoever for any country or any relevant international law. Its action is emboldened by the weakness of its neighbors, the unhindered backing of its friends, and the gutlessness of its critics. While Israeli friends are busy labeling as anti-Semite anyone who dares highlight the effective Apartheid underway in Palestine and Israel, others are consumed in intellectual tussles over the boundaries of language and proper ways to frame the discourse.
None of this wrangling is relevant to Israel, which is merely winning time to achieve its own version of a harrowingly ugly Apartheid. As for those who still feel uneasy about that "provocative" term, they simply need to consider the latest Israeli transportation ministry's initiative, which designates bus line number 210 to be "Palestinian only" buses, which will shuttle cheap Palestinian labor to and from the West Bank. Of course, this is not an isolated policy, but a continuation of a dreadful track record.
All of this comes at the heels of yet another international report, this time issued by the UN Children's Fund, UNICEF. Released on March 6, the report criticized Israel's military courts for its mistreatment of Palestinian children and spoke of their "widespread, systematic and institutionalized" abuse. The favorite arrest time of children by the Israeli army, as indicated in the report, was between midnight and 5am.
The report, "Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations," mentioned "measures so that Palestinian children in Israeli military custody are treated in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international standards." Another pipe-dream, of course, for child abuse has been intrinsically linked to military occupation, and is as old as the state of Israel itself. Israel cannot possibly comply with any international law or convention without serious pressure.
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