The European Union’s foreign ministers harshly denounced Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, writing that settlement expansion is threatening a potential two-state deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The statement comes as some analysts speculate that a broad national unity government announced could give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist government political space to slow settlement expansion or even cut a deal — though few view such moves as overwhelmingly likely.
The E.U. Foreign Affairs Council statement, however, stressed the importance of slowing the settlement enterprise before the Israeli communities jutting deep into a future Palestinian state forclose the possibility of peace. Noting that “settlements remain illegal under international law, irrespective of recent decisions by the government of Israel,” the 27 E.U. foreign ministers wrote:
The viability of a two-state solution must be maintained. The EU expresses deep concern about developments on the ground which threaten to make a two-state solution impossible…
The EU expresses deep concern regarding settler extremism and incitement by settlers in the West Bank. The EU condemns continuous settler violence and deliberate provocations against Palestinian civilians. It calls on the government of Israel to bring the perpetrators to justice and to comply with its obligations under international law.
Settler extremism has not only affected Palestinians, but also the Israeli army, which last year was subjected to a reprisal attack by ideological settlers.
The document also cited rapid settlement expansion — settlement construction increased 660 percent in the first six months after 2010’s settlement freeze — and the legalizing of so-called outpost settlements that are at inception considered illegal by Israeli law. The Israeli government said the E.U. statement was “based on a partial, biased and one-sided depiction of realities on the ground.”
Palestinians, too, share some blame in the failure to get a two-state solution off the ground. The Second Intifada, an often violent Palestinian uprising after the Oslo peace process stalled in the late 1990s, shook Israeli confidence that peace was possible. Just last month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas rebuffed Israeli overtures for talks without preconditions, insisting on an Israeli settlement freeze.
The international community and the U.S. consider the settlements “illegitimate.” Several high profile figues, including top current and former Israeli officials, recently called for various forms of halting settlement activity.