Israel-Palestine: MEPs express their concerns about peace process
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is at a critical juncture and the EU and its member states should recognise Palestinian statehood, according to members of Parliament’s Palestine delegation. Led by delegation chair Neoklis Sylikiotis, the five members visited Jerusalem and the West Bank on 20-24 February. In addition MEPs discussed the Israeli government’s recent decision to retroactively legalise settlements illegally built on Palestinian land during a plenary debate on 14 February,
While in Jerusalem and the West Bank on 20-24 February, the cross-party delegation of MEPs met Palestinian Authority officials, communities at risk of forced displacement and civil society organisations battling Israel’s settlement expansion. This June marks half a century of Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Speaking in Jerusalem on 23 February, delegation chair Neoklis Sylikiotis, a Cypriot member of the GUE/NGL group, described Israel’s recent decision to build 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and to retroactively legalise thousands of illegal settlements as “a new violation of the rights of Palestinians to self-determination”.
Settlements and demolitions
Members visited the Ofer military court, Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem and the Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin community which is set to be demolished by Israeli authorities. In 2016 alone, 6,088 Palestinians were affected by demolitions in parts of the West Bank under Israeli civil and security control.
In meetings with Palestinian Authority officials, MEPs urged the implementation of the new Palestinian unity deal reached in January, which was an agreement between Fatah which currently administers (parts of) the West Bank and Hamas which controls Gaza to form a unity government. However, the five MEPs were denied access to Gaza by Israeli authorities.
Two-state solution “further away than ever”
During a plenary debate on 14 February, members also discussed recent developments in the Middle East peace process, including the retroactive legalisation of Israeli settlements. Speaking on behalf of Malta’s presidency of the EU Council, Minister Ian Borg reiterated the EU’s commitment to a two-state solution, namely Israel and Palestine existing side by side as separate states.
Belgian ALDE member Hilde Vautmans also condemned the Israeli law retroactively legalising settlements and described the two-state solution as “further away than ever”.
Victor Boştinaru, a Romanian member of the S&D group, urged MEPs not to give up on the peace process: “The two-state solution and the mutual recognition of the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps and Jerusalem as the capital of both states, remains the only hope for peace.”
Cristian Dan Preda, a Romanian EPP member and vice-chair of the human rights subcommittee, encouraged MEPs to not only focus on the issue of settlements: “It is a very complex, multifaceted situation with other issues such as security, borders, Jerusalem, refugees and so on. By concentrating on one single aspect of the conflict, we are alienating Israel, an important partner and the only democracy in the region."
Dutch ECR member Bas Belder, vice-chair of Parliament’s Israel delegation, accused the EU of being responsible for the “lingering impasse” in the region and described it as a “major mistake” to “look at the future of the Palestinian state taking as binding a border which was based on a temporary ceasefire”.
French Greens/EFA Pascal Durand reminded MEPs that the EU does not recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and also criticised that EU labelling guidelines for products imported from illegal Israeli settlements are not being fully implemented.