27/08/2010

Israel-Palestine : EU raises its voice

This week, Lady Ashton created great astonishment by declaring herself concerned about the fate of Abdullah Abu Rahma, a leader of the popular resistance movement of the small village of Bil’in in the West Bank. The High Representative said that the “EU considers the route of the barrier where it is built on Palestinian land to be illegal » and that « the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahma is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non violent manner « (see Statement).

This statement is launched on the eve of a resumption of direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis, in which the Quartet will play a mediating role. Even if the United States occupies a dominant position in this set, the statement of Ashton on the fate of Abdullah Abu Rahma is important enough to worry the Israeli authorities. Israel has been quick to express its disapproval of this attempt by the EU to interfere in its judicial system. But the real Israeli concern is about the EU to break away from the American position and to take a tougher stance vis-à-vis the Israeli occupation in the coming negotiations.

Moreover these negotiations promise to be quite chaotic. It is more a resignation than a real commitment that Washington had obtained the last week from the Palestinian Authority. Forced by U.S. economic arguments, Mahmoud Abbas finally agreed to negotiate without preconditions. But this week the PA retracted by announcing it would withdraw from the negotiating table if the moratorium on the settlement was not extended. Since one week, Mahmoud Abbas has difficulties to justify its action towards a public opinion which accuses him of having surrendered to U.S. and Israeli pressure.

Netanyahu has been summoned by the U.S. government to give guarantees on settlements. To cope with this request without hurting the extreme right factions of his coalition, he consented to a « mini-freeze » of settlement building in order to extend the moratorium. This « mini-freeze » only concern the attempts of illegal settlement in the heart of the West Bank, not the large settlements like Ariel, Maale Adumim, Modi’in Illit, and so on. Yet the latter are the ones that represent the main problems for the Palestinians. Most of them are surrounded by the Israeli separation barrier and linked by Israelis only bypass roads, they fragment the West Bank into a multitude of isolated islets (see map of OCHA).

The position of Baroness Ashton is far from being insignificant. The High Representative has reaffirmed that the EU considered the route of the wall located in Palestinian territory as illegal. If it continues to follow this logic, the EU could now exert pressure on Israel to concede more than a « mini-freeze » on settlement building. Otherwise, there is a real fear that we will only assist to « mini-negotiations ».

Nathalie Janne d’Othée