Italy blocks release of EU report on East Jerusalem

A highly critical report on Israeli actions in East Jerusalem by East Jerusalem and Ramallah-based British diplomats was leaked to the press by “someone who wanted to publicize it,” according to the New York Times. The report was prepared for the EU foreign ministers, and was not supposed to be released, if at all, until December. The report — it’s not clear if this is the final version– can be seen here.

The report warns that Israel’s separation wall is being constructed “to seal off most of East Jerusalem, with its 230,000 Palestinian residents, from the West Bank” and is creating a “de facto annexation of Palestinian of East Jerusalem.”

The report’s summary:

1. East Jerusalem is of central importance to the Palestinians in political, economic, social and religious terms. Several inter-linked Israeli policies are reducing the possibility of reaching a final status agreement on Jerusalem, and demonstrate a clear Israeli intention to turn the annexation of East Jerusalem into a concrete fact:

the near-completion of the barrier around east Jerusalem, far from the Green Line;
the construction and expansion of illegal settlements, by private entities and the Israeli government, in and around East Jerusalem;
the demolition of Palestinian homes built without permits (which are all but unobtainable);
stricter enforcement of rules separating Palestinians resident in East Jerusalem from those resident in the West Bank, including a reduction of working permits;
and discriminatory taxation, expenditure and building permit policy by the Jerusalem municipality.

2. The plan to expand the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim into the so-called “E1” area, east of Jerusalem, threatens to complete the encircling of the city by Jewish settlements, dividing the West Bank into two separate geographical areas. The proposed extension of the barrier from East Jerusalem to form a bubble around the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim would have the same effect. 2004 saw a near tripling of the number of Palestinian buildings demolished in East Jerusalem. We expect a similar number of demolitions in 2005. 88 homes in the Silwan neighbourhood with demolition orders outstanding against them attracted much attention in June.

3. When the barrier has been completed, Israel will control access to and from East Jerusalem, cutting off its Palestinian satellite cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, and the rest of the West Bank beyond. This will have serious economic, social and humanitarian consequences for the Palestinians. By vigorously applying policies on residency and ID status, Israel will be able finally to complete the isolation of East Jerusalem — the political, social, commercial and infrastructural centre of Palestinian life.

4. Israel’s activities in Jerusalem are in violation of both its Roadmap obligations and international law. We and others in the international community have made our concerns clear on numerous occasions, to varying effect.

Palestinians are, without exception, deeply alarmed about East Jerusalem. They fear that Israel will “get away with it”, under the cover of disengagement. Israeli actions also risk radicalising the hitherto relatively quiescent Palestinian population in East Jerusalem. Clear statements by the European Union and the Quartet that Jerusalem remains an issue for negotiation by the two sides, and that Israel should desist from all measures designed to pre-empt such negotiations, would be timely. We should also support Palestinian cultural, political and economic activities in East Jerusalem.

The report also notes,

Smaller in number but of equal concern are settlements being implanted in the heart of existing Palestinian neighbourhoods, with covert and overt government assistance. Extremist Jewish settler groups, often with foreign funding, use a variety of means to take over Palestinian properties and land. They either prey on Palestinians suffering financial hardship or simply occupy properties by force and rely on the occasional tardiness and/or connivance of the Israeli courts. Such groups have told us that they also press the Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian homes built without permits. Israel has previously used the “Absentee Property Law” (generally applied only inside Green Line Israel) to seize property and land. The Attorney General declared that this was “legally indefensible” in the Bethlehem area earlier this year and the practise has stopped, but the law remains applicable to East Jerusalem and can be resurrected any time the Israeli Government sees fit.

Captured by Israel in the 1967 six-day war, East Jerusalem was annexed as part of its “eternal and indivisible capital” in a move not recognized by any other nation. Israel has illegally settled 190,000 of its own citizens in East Jerusalem.

Israel is infuriated at the British foreign office for initiating the report. Israeli officials called the report “anti-Israeli” and accused the foreign office of being “unrelentingly pro-Palestinian.”(UK Guardian, Nov. 26)

Italy’s foreign minister, the post-Fascist Gianfranco Fini, who Israel considers its strongest ally in Europe, exerted pressure on the EU committee to not take any further steps. Fini even claimed “there has never been any report by the EU that accuses Israel,” (AGI, Nov. 25) and that press reports about the document “do not correspond to the truth.”(AKI, Nov. 25) Fini has worked hard to shed his party’s stigma of anti-Semitism from its fascist past by being relentlessly pro-Israel.

Israel’s great lefty hope, the new leader of the Labor party, Amir Peretz, opposes any division of Jerusalem. He also approved the publishing of tenders for the construction of 350 new housing units in Ma’aleh Adumim as the last act of Housing Minister and Labor party member Isaac Herzog before Labor pulled out of the current government coalition. (Ha’aretz, Nov. 22)

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