May 27, 2017

Europe awakens to Palestinian realities

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The figures say it all. 1,200 Jewish settlers occupied outposts in the West Bank in 1972; in 2012 over 300,000 live in fortress-like settlements on hilltops overlooking the Jordan Valley – excluding the illegal settlements and gradual annexation of East Jerusalem.

This exponential growth of Jewish settlements takes place mostly in Area C of the West Bank. There are now twice as many illegal Jews settlers in Area C as there are Palestinians, who have diminished in numbers due to lack of access to water, building permits, and the occupation.

Area C comprises 62% of the West Bank and is under full Israeli security control, as stipulated in the Oslo Accords, signed between the Palestinians and Israel in 1993 and ratified in 1995 to include further Israeli security measures around Jericho and in the Jordan Valley.

Why former PLO Chairman Arafat signed away what remained of Palestine at Oslo is another painful question altogether for the Palestinians, but the evidence nearly 20 years later is irrefutable: Israel is carrying out a systematic, and not so subtle, colonization of Palestine.

Everyone knows this now. It's no secret to any visitor and Europeans are well-placed to see and experience the nitty-gritty details of the Israeli neo-colonial machine. And for those who still believe in a peace settlement, their voices are becoming increasingly critical and unspoken.

This was exemplified in the recent report by the EU Heads of Mission (HoMs) on Area C and Palestinian State-Building, leaked in early this month, but published in July 2011. To read a full version of the report, visit the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR).

Not since the UN Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, Alvaro de Soto's "end of mission report" in May 2007 has there been such explosive material to condemn the illegal Israeli military occupation and militarized Jewish colonization of Palestinian territory.

Again, the numbers say it all: when the Israeli occupation began in 1967, there were about 250,000 Palestinians in Area C while now there are a little over 50,000. Palestinian construction is prohibited in around 70% of Area C according to the Israeli Civil Administration (CA).

Then there are the Israeli-designated "nature reserves", which occupy about 10% of the West Bank. Half is this 10% for the preservation of wildlife and animals overlaps rather inconspicuously with "closed military training zones" for the perpetuation of the Israeli occupation.

If the trend is not clear by now, here is another basic statistic: a total of 45 cisterns and rainwater structures in Area C of the West Bank have been demolished by the Israeli authorities since 2010, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Why would Israel intentionally destroy Palestinian cisterns? France figured that one out now. In an official report on "The Geopolitics of Water", published in December 2011, the French Parliament calls Israel's exploitation of Palestinian water resources, a "new apartheid".

What is more revealing still: the 450,000 illegal Jewish settlers on Palestinian land use more water than the 2.3 million Palestinians in the West Bank. Anyone who has seen the sprinkling system of the green-gardened hill-top Jewish fortresses will not be entirely surprised.

Furthermore, the Palestinians have no access to the Jordan River. This severely depleted river is exploited by Israel (60%) and by neighboring Arab countries (40%), according to the French report – although given the sickly status of the river those percentages hardly seem to matter.

So we have new statistics and new statements, but the solution for peace between Israelis and Palestinians continues to stagnate. The peace process has been on pause for decades but now the perception of who is to blame and what real intentions are is changing.

This shift in perception is important. Europe is becoming more vociferous in its 'megaphone diplomacy' and may, one hopes, be moving away from its 'constructive ambiguity'. Nowhere is this more poignant than in the recent reports issued by France and the EU.

There is a tremendous opportunity perceived by more and more European politicians now for better and more constructive relations with a rapidly changing Arab world. This opportunity is based on the promotion of economic cooperation, popular representation and social diversity – much like the European project.

The geographic proximity between Europe and the Arab world is undeniable, particularly around the Mediterranean. While Israel occupies Palestine, Europe is slowly awakening to new realities and the great potential for trade, tourism and technology.

In dire financial straits, Europe needs to recover economically by building stronger ties with its neighbors; and the path to improving relations with the Arab world at large is to endorse the long overdue Palestinian right to self-determination.

Stuart Reigeluth and Dimitris Bouris work for the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) in Brussels and London.