Standing up to Israeli settlements
Growing international pressure against Israel’s occupation policies should be lauded and encouraged. Israel’s hard-line government needs to realise that, even in these most turbulent times, the world is not looking the other way while it pursues its unjust policies.
The Palestinian issue, though no longer at the top of the agenda in the Middle East and North Africa, remains a source of regional tension and instability.
In a statement issued on January 18th, European Union foreign ministers reiterated their commitment to “achieving a two-state solution that meets Israeli and Palestinian security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty” and “ends the occupation that began in 1967″.
They specifically criticised Israeli settlements as “an obstacle to peace [that] threatens to make a two-state solution impossible.” EU ministers reaffirmed their intent to label exports from the settlements as such.
Such an unequivocal stand by the European Union is a necessary response to Israel’s ever-expanding settlements that are making Palestinian statehood and comprehensive peace an increasingly impossible dream to achieve.
With the help of successive Israeli governments, more than 500,000 Jewish settlers now reside in 237 settlements in the West Bank and in eastern Jerusalem.
Referring to the ongoing violence that in the past four months has cost the lives of 146 Palestinians, 25 Israelis and one American, the EU ministers stressed that “security measures alone cannot stop the cycle of violence” and “only the re-establishment of a political horizon and the resumption of dialogue can stop the violence”.
In a report issued January 19th, Human Rights Watch (HRW) shed new light on the role of the 1,000 or so companies — both Israeli and foreign — operating in the settlements. Businesses in settlements, pointed out HRW, “depend on and contribute to the unlawful confiscation of Palestinian land and resources by financing, developing and marketing settlement homes”.
A surprisingly bold stand came from US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, who criticised Israeli authorities’ unfair legal practices in the occupied territories. He told an audience in Tel Aviv on January 18th: “Too much vigilantism goes unchecked and at times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians.”
Two Jewish extremists were indicted in January for carrying out the horrendous West Bank arson attack that killed 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha and his parents. But unfair practices endure.
According to rights groups, Israelis involved in violent acts against Palestinians are rarely held accountable while Palestinian suspects receive draconian treatment and often held for long periods without charge. Israelis are judged according to civil law but Palestinians living under occupation have to reckon with Israeli military law.
The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din says there is an 85% failure rate in Israel’s investigation of “ideologically motivated crimes” committed by Israelis against Palestinians. Over the past decade, the group says that of the 1,104 investigations opened by Israeli police following complaints by Palestinians, only 75 indictments were eventually served.
The Arab world is consumed by war, civil strife and the threat of terror. Israel should not be allowed to take advantage of these crises to further its discriminatory and expansionist policies. Ending Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state remain a crucial objective that will help establish peace and stability in the region and beyond.