The EU is finally taking a tougher stance on Israeli settlements
Oslo is dead. Yet the temporary administrative structures of the Oslo Accords remain. The West Bank is about 5,400 square kilometers. It is still divided between districts A, B and C. Area A is the land under Palestinian Civilian and Security control. Area B is under Palestinian civilian governance but Israeli military control. Area C is under Israeli civilian and security control. There are about 2 million Palestinians and 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank. Life is hard for all Palestinians, but for the 150,000 of them living in area C, it is even harder.
I was horrified when I first heard of this alphabet soup. It makes the place practically ungovernable. Which district are you in? Does the 1967 line coincide with the wall Israel built? How do you define a border in that plot of land you are interested in developing? All unnecessary questions in a normal world, yet this is the structure of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) for you. Even the design of districts is poor. The meandering districts lines make traveling between Nablus and Ramallah hell. No one can be sure how long it takes because it often depends on the number of Israeli flying checkpoints along the way. The best excuse in doing business in Ramallah, when you are late to an appointment? “We ran into checkpoints. The Israelis look very nervous today.”
Last year, EU foreign ministers adopted the most detailed recommendations regarding Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) yet. Many greeted the move with skepticism, since the EU likes to make statements about the situation but rarely takes action. Last week, however, they issued a directive prohibiting European states to sign agreements with Israel unless there is a settlement exclusion clause. No grants, no scholarships, no nothing to Israeli citizens living in the settlements. The EU has decided to walk the talk after a year. Better late than never.
More than 60 percent of the West Bank land is composed of area C. It was 72 percent when the original agreement was signed in 1995. In 2011, it declined to 61 percent. There are an estimated 150,000 Palestinians living among the 325,000 Israelis in settlements, which are illegal under international law. In the past year, more than 600 houses were built in settlements and 535 Palestinian-owned houses were demolished. Additionally, about 1967 new settlement units were tendered again in the last year. While these are explained as “natural growth” by Israeli authorities, for some reason no such natural growth is observed among the Palestinians although their population growth is higher. Palestinian towns in area A, composed of 3 percent of the West Bank, are forced to stack people in ever higher apartments and have to grow vertically, while Israelis grow horizontally in areas C, claiming ever more land. That’s another asymmetric situation.
All the while, we are waiting for peace talks to start again. The illegality of settlements needs to be underlined and the legitimacy of the Palestinian state accepted. Just like what South Africa did, the EU can go a step further and put a ban on trading in settlement products. Above all, the Europeans are walking the talk while Turkey is unfortunately still just talking. It is a pity.