European States criticize threatened Israeli house demolitions in Silwan

Is the Quartet coming apart?

One of the Quartet’s four members — the European Union — is keeping up a sustained post-Gaza-war resistance to Israeli policies in East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the Israeli threats in recent weeks to demolish over a hundred Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem (88 in Silwan, 55 in Shua’fat refugee camp, 27 in Wadi Joz/Sheikh Jarrah, 5 + 10 more in Abu Tor) makes the situation look like the Gaza war, but in slow motion.

Some Palestinians are annoyed at the attention being showered on the continuingly-awful situation in Gaza, complaining that it is designed to distract attention from what is happening in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Both situations are equally compelling, of course.

There are also mutual recriminations between West Bankers and East Jerusalemites, each accusing the others of doing nothing effective to stop the encroaching threats.

Or, perhaps the Quartet is not divided — maybe the members are simply dividing up their responsibilities — the U.S. is taking the lead on Gaza (sort of, and very conditionally — only $300 million of the recently-pledged money for rehabilitation and reconstruction would go to Gaza, and only if U.S. policy aims are respected … while $600 million would apparently go to the West Bank), while the EU is taking the lead on East Jerusalem… [However, the U.S. has held a couple of meetings with Palestinian Authority figures in East Jerusalem.]

The EU today issued a statement today saying that it is is “deeply concerned” about the threat of demolition to 88 homes in Silwan, just outside the walls of the Old City in East Jerusalem. The EU said that this “would be the largest destruction of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem since 1967 … Demolition of houses in this sensitive area threatens the viability of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement, in conformity with international law”.

A document recently obtained by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICHAD), which is described as a statement [it looks like a draft] by EU heads of mission in Ramallah and East Jerusalem, says that “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: (1) the near-completion of the barrier around east Jerusalem, far from the Green Line; (2) the construction and expansion of illegal settlements, by private entities and the Israeli government, in and around East Jerusalem; (3) the demolition of Palestinian homes built without permits (which are all but unobtainable); (4) stricter enforcement of rules separating Palestinians resident in East Jerusalem from those resident in the West Bank, including a reduction of working permits; (5) and discriminatory taxation, expenditure and building permit policy by the Jerusalem municipality … 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”.

On the Israeli settlements in and around East Jerusalem, this EU document says that “Israel is increasing settlement activity in three east-facing horseshoe shaped bands in and around East Jerusalem, linked by new roads: (1) first through new settlements in the Old City itself and in the Palestinian neighbourhoods immediately surrounding the old city (Silwan, Ras al Amud, At Tur, Wadi al Joz, Sheikh Jarrah); (2) then in the existing major East Jerusalem settlement blocs (running clockwise from Ramot, Rekhes Shu’afat, French Hill, through the new settlements in the first band, above, to East Talpiot, Har Homa and Gilo); (3) and finally in ‘Greater Jerusalem’ – linking the city of Jerusalem to the settlement blocs of Givat Ze’ev to the north, Ma’aleh Adumim to the east (including the E1 area, see below), and the Etzion bloc to the south. Settlement activity and construction is ongoing in each of these three bands, contrary to Israel’s obligations under international law and the Roadmap”.

On the Israeli settlements, this apparently draft document prepared by EU heads of mission says that “Settlement building inside East Jerusalem continues at a rapid pace. There are currently around 190,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem, the majority in large settlement blocks such as Pisgat Ze’ev. The mainstream Israeli view is that the so-called Israeli ‘neighbourhoods’ of East Jerusalem are not settlements because they are within the borders of the Jerusalem Municipality. The EU, along with the most of the rest of the international community, does not recognise Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem and regards the East Jerusalem ‘neighbourhoods’ as illegal settlements like any others – but this does not deter Israel from expanding them. Some of these settlements are now expanding beyond even the Israeli-defined municipal boundary of Jerusalem, further into the West Bank. The Jerusalem municipality has also been active around Rachel’s Tomb [n.b. in Bethlehem], outside the municipal boundaries. 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. Some of the Jewish settlements lack building permits, but not one has been demolished – in marked contrast to the situation for Palestinians. There are also plans to build a large new Jewish settlement within the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, a step that would be particularly inflammatory … The Israeli authorities place severe restrictions on the building of Palestinian housing in East Jerusalem. The Israeli authorities will only issue building permits for areas that have zoned ‘master plans’. The municipality produces such plans for areas marked for settlement development, but not for Palestinian areas – only Palestinians are expected to draw up their own plans, at great (generally unaffordable) expense. So each year Palestinians receive less than 100 building permits, and even these require a wait of several years. At the same time, rules requiring Palestinians with Jerusalem residency status either to reside in the city or risk forfeiting that status have forced thousands of Palestinians in this situation to move from other areas of the West Bank back to Jerusalem, adding to the severe pressure on housing. As a result, most new Palestinian housing is built without permits and is therefore considered ‘illegal’ by the Israeli authorities (although under the 4th Geneva Convention occupying powers may not extend their jurisdiction to occupied territory). The restrictions and demolitions also leave undeveloped (but Palestinian-owned) land available for new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements … The Jerusalem municipality is responsible for the majority of the house demolitions carried out in East Jerusalem (see above). It also contributes to the economic and social stagnation of East Jerusalem through other policies. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions claims that while Palestinians contribute 33% of the municipality’s taxes, in return it spends only 8% of its budget in Palestinian areas. The exact figures are hard to assess, but discrimination in expenditure is obvious. Palestinian areas of the city are characterised by poor roads, little or no street cleaning, and an absence of well-maintained public spaces, in sharp contrast to areas where Israelis live (in both West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem settlements). Even Jewish ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods (which contribute very little in taxes, for various reasons) are far better provided for by the municipality. The provision of services in what is, according to Israeli definitions, a single municipality, is therefore subject to discriminatory practices. Palestinians regard municipal taxes as a tax on their residency rights, rather than a quid pro quo for municipal services. The high level of taxation (given that Palestinian incomes are typically much lower) and discriminatory law enforcement that appears to target Palestinians for fines for a variety of offences (traffic violations, parking offences, no TV licence etc) further worsen the economic situation of Palestinians. This makes it harder for them to maintain their residency in the city, and more vulnerable to settler groups or Palestinian collaborators offering them good money for their property or land … prospects for a two-state solution with east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine are receding. The greater the level of settlement activity in and around East Jerusalem the harder it will be to say what is Palestinian, and to link this up with the rest of the West Bank …”

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