Dr Arafat Shoukri, Director of the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR)
In the last weeks, numerous reports have come to light regarding Israeli policies towards the Palestinian territories which are causing increased diplomatic activity in favour of a Palestinian state. The first report was produced by the European Heads of Mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah entitled "Area C and Palestinian State-building" (July 2011) and demonstrates the illegal nature of the continuing Israeli military occupation and ongoing Jewish colonization of Area C in the Palestinian West Bank. The report is very informative and includes some highly important figures. For example, in 1972, there were 1.200 Jewish settlers in Area C, whereas in 2010 the number was 310.000 (excluding East Jerusalem). Moreover, the report reveals that prior to 1967 there were between 200.000-320.000 Palestinians in the Jordan Valley while today the number is 56.000.
As well as the above-mentioned report, another one coming from the French Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee accused Israel of implementing water 'apartheid' policies in the West Bank (in "The geopolitics of water", December 2011). The report highlights statistics that strongly support this argument: "Some 450.000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank use more water than the 2.3 million Palestinians that live there."
The findings of these reports were witnessed by international politicians during the fieldtrips which were organized by the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) this past autumn to the different parts of the Palestinian territories. These CEPR delegations included UK politicians who witnessed the harsh realities on the ground and British efforts at building the putative Palestinian state.
Britain has long supported Palestinian institution-building by investing hundreds of millions of pounds. Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister, was appointed in June 2007 as envoy for the International Quartet to the Middle East peace process. Britain also contributes seconded-staff to the two EU civilian missions that were deployed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories namely EUBAM-Rafah and EUPOL-COPPS. Through the Department for International Development (DfID), the British Government has allocated millions of pounds to support the Palestinian economy, helping to build state institutions and improving security and access to justice. It is estimated that DfID will have spent an average of £86 million per year in the Occupied Palestinian Territories until 2015.
All these investments on the ground are of great importance, but the pitfall is that they have not been accompanied by concrete political results. Israel still occupies and isolates Gaza. In the West Bank and Jerusalem, Palestinians still cannot move freely in their territory because of the hundreds of checkpoints, road-blocks and the Wall. Palestinians are still being evicted from their homes that are subsequently re-occupied by settlers or simply demolished. Moreover, settlement expansion has reached historic levels with a 19 per cent rise from 2010 while East Jerusalem witnessed in 2011 the highest number of construction plans in a decade.
It is high time for the European Union and the British Government to take immediate actions to stop the continual encroachment of Jewish settlers on Palestinian lands and to end the Israeli military occupation of Palestinians. Although we welcome Britain's deputy Prime Minister's recent comments concerning how the propagation of Israeli 'facts on the ground' are "an act of deliberate vandalism to the basic premise on which negotiations have taken place for years and years' a more pro-active policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is needed. Thus, Britain should not restrict itself to declarations, which have little impact on events in situ since they are dismissed as "background noise" by Israel.
There are fundamental changes sweeping across the region which should encourage the EU and the British Government to revise its policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel can no longer be left to act as an immune country above the law. Unless Britain and the European Union put some real and conditional pressure on Israel we will see no improvement towards peace. On the contrary, as the EU Heads of Mission report argued: "if current trends are not stopped and reversed, the establishment of a viable Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders seems more remote than ever."
This article was first published in the Government Gazette on March 9, 2012, and appeared in print in the February 2012 issue of the Government Gazette on page 83.