In what is being called an "unprecedented move," eight European countries -- members of an initiative called the West Bank Protection Consortium -- recently announced that they had drafted a formal letter to the Israeli government, demanding the reimbursement of €30,000. According to Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Luxembourg, Ireland and Denmark, this was the sum spent by the Consortium on materials provided for two structures (modular classrooms equipped with solar panels) erected for Palestinians and Bedouin in the West Bank, and dismantled by Israel at the end of August.
What these EU countries failed to mention, however, is that the structures were illegal, and therefore should not have been built in the first place. Instead, in its letter, the Consortium accused Israel of causing "suffering to Palestinian civilians," through its "practice of coercive measures such as demolitions and confiscations of humanitarian supplies as well as infrastructure for schools," and of "contradict[ing] Israel's engagement according to the international point of view..."
This is worse than disingenuous. Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, signed on the White House lawn between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, in the presence of US President Bill Clinton, Area C of the West Bank is under Israeli military and civil jurisdiction, and only Israel has the authority to build or approve building there.
Oslo II, which created the Palestinian Authority (PA), divides the West Bank into three geographical sections – Area A, Area B and Area C -- and specifies which government controls each. Area C is under the military and civil jurisdiction of Israel alone.
This is something that the EU acknowledged, as recently as last year, in a statement on its official website:
"Israel retains almost exclusive control over law enforcement, planning and construction in Area C.
"In line with the recommendations of the EU Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions, the European Union works in Area C on two fronts: humanitarian assistance and development.
"The EU provides humanitarian assistance to communities in need in Area C in accordance with the humanitarian imperative. At the same time, the EU works with the Palestinian Authority to develop Area C and support Palestinian presence there..."
Yet, for years, there has been non-stop building in Area C, on land between Israel and Jordan as far south as Gush Etzion, in a transparent effort to populate Area C with Arabs by building "irreversible facts on the ground."
It is not only Area C, however, that has been in the headlines of late. Area B, which is administered jointly by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, shot into the news again in October, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he had decided to postpone a vote on the "Greater Jerusalem" bill, which would expand the Israeli capital's city limits to include nearby settlement blocs. According to sources from Netanyahu's coalition, the legislation would not be advanced before the Netanyahu government had a chance to consult with Washington, which is engaged in efforts to reignite the "stalled" peace process between Israel and the PA.
Ironically, the renewed controversy over Israeli sovereignty coincided with the burgeoning of strategic ties -- in the form of a reconciliation accord -- between the PA's ruling Fatah faction and Hamas, the terrorist organization that has controlled the Gaza Strip since the Palestinian people elected it to do so in 2006. Gaza has also served as Hamas's base for the launching of rockets into Israel, and the origin of hundreds of terror tunnels. The reconciliation accord is currently under serious threat by the refusal of Hamas, to honor its commitment to disarm.
The ostensibly problematic nature of legal Israeli construction in the E-1 corridor -- between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim (a large urban settlement included in the Greater Jerusalem bill) -- is based on the false claim, made by the Palestinian Authority and its backers in the international arena, that Jewish presence in that area would prevent territorial "contiguity" and hinder movement within the Palestinian state when it is established. As a result, successive Israeli governments have avoided building in that area.
Highlighting the hypocrisy of the world on this issue, in December 2016, Middle East analyst Bassam Tawil noted massive "behind-the-scenes" Palestinian construction, the goal of which is "to create irreversible facts on the ground," and completely encircle Jerusalem. He pointed out that while Israel is condemned for any and every attempt to build housing in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority has been undertaking, with impunity, a "colossal" construction project that is "illegal in every respect."
Although Tawil referred to this as a "quiet" endeavor, it is actually being carried out in a blatant fashion. Anyone driving around Arab neighborhoods in the greater Jerusalem can see thousands of apartment buildings in various stages of completion. Many are occupied; others are in the process of being built. Bulldozers and tractors move noisily and freely in broad daylight, digging, hauling debris and moving materials back and forth across lots designated for additional housing, as well as grocery stores, body shops and other consumer outlets.
On a recent tour of the area, Arab affairs expert and Jerusalem resident Khaled Abu Toameh explained that this ongoing construction, funded mainly by the EU and Qatar, is made possible through the "confiscation" (theft) of privately owned tracts of Palestinian land by unlicensed contractors whose interest is solely financial. According to Abu Toameh, these "thugs and gangsters" care nothing about the welfare of fellow Palestinians, and are concerned about Palestinian statehood. All they want, he said, is to line their pockets at the expense of helpless landowners, who are told that they must sacrifice their property to help the Palestinian Authority populate the area for political gain against Israel.
Illegal Palestinian construction in the Jerusalem area.
Once the buildings – which, according to Tawil, "do not meet even the most minimum standards required by engineers, architects and housing planners" -- are erected, the apartments are sold cheaply ($25,000-$50,000), to guarantee they are purchased and populated quickly.
On November 12, the Israeli TV network Kan reported that the Jerusalem municipality and Israeli security forces are planning to demolish six such illegal apartment buildings. These are located in the village of Kafr Aqab, within Jerusalem municipal boundaries to the north -- and under Israeli sovereignty -- but outside the security fence.
It takes particular gall for European Union representatives to express "humanitarian" outrage at Israel for razing illegal structures in the West Bank -- while the EU is in league with Palestinian criminals who have been brazenly stealing Arab-owned land. It is particularly unfathomable for Belgium -- which spearheaded the demand for Israeli restitution -- to be protesting the removal of modular classrooms, of all things. Less than two weeks earlier, Brussels suspended funding for Palestinian schools, when the monitoring organization Palestinian Media Watch informed the Belgian government that a school it had financed was renamed in honor of a Palestinian terrorist. The female terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi, was responsible for the massacre of 38 people, among them 13 children, near Tel Aviv in 1978.
If there is any debt to pay here, it is not Israel's to Europe, but the other way around. Belgium and the rest of the EU should be embracing its natural ally, the democratic Jewish state, against all forces that support and perpetrate violence, while rejecting peace.
Illegal Palestinian construction in the Jerusalem area.
Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"