Things have not been going well for Israel this year. Still reeling from the fallout of the Goldstone Report and the international outcry over Operation Cast Lead, Israel finds itself in the hot seat once again, requiring it to wage yet another “diplomatic campaign” as damage control. Last week the EU heads of commission of Jerusalem released a report which is updated annually and presented to the Palestinian Authority. The report accuses Israel of actively pursuing the annexation of east Jerusalem and undermining hopes for peace with the Palestinians by rendering the two-state solution infeasible. The report was delivered to various institutions in Brussels, and apparently was the impetus behind the recent Swedish initiative calling for formal EU recognition of east Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. The EU foreign ministers voted on it yesterday, but dropped the original Swedish proposal. They did, however reaffirm that Jerusalem should be a joint capital of two states.
The Swedish initiative drew sweeping criticism and condemnation by the Israeli government, which said the initiative would only serve to harm and undermine peace efforts, and warned the EU to keep their hands off Jerusalem. Yet the original initiative was far from controversial and reiterated the basic premise behind the internationally accepted vision of a two-state solution. In fact, the initiative stated that “The European Union calls for the urgent resumption of negotiations that will lead, within an agreed timeframe, to a two-state solution with an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable state of Palestine, comprising the West Bank and Gaza and with east Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel.”
Moreover, the initiative asserts that a comprehensive peace is of fundamental interest to the EU and must be achieved on the basis of previous initiatives such as the Madrid Principles, relevant UN resolutions, the Road Map, agreements previously reached by the parties, and the Arab Initiative. Thus the Swedish initiative did not stray too far from already existing principles and international norms regarding the creation of a Palestinian state, yet Israel has responded with absolute indignation to it.
Perhaps one aspect of what troubled Israel so greatly about the initiative was its expressed support for the resumption of negotiations leading to final status talks where the “core issues” will be resolved. The core issues have been on the backburner of the negotiating table since the peace process commenced in the early 1990s. Yet they are precisely the issues that need to be addressed if any significant progress will ever be made. The most pressing of these issues include borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security and water. It is no coincidence that Israel has insisted these issues be reserved for a “later time.” Time is in fact Israel’s greatest weapon, which it has used very effectively to create what it hopes are irreversible facts on the ground.
The continual delay of final status talks has allowed Israel free reign to do as it pleases, which is precisely what the EU commission of Jerusalem report and the Swedish initiative addressed and called Israel out on. Israel, of course wants to determine and control the borders, annex as much land as it can, have control over Jerusalem, and maintain control of water resources in the West Bank. Moreover, under no circumstances does Israel want to absorb any Palestinian refugees; this would threaten the demographic balance of Israel in which Jews are currently the majority.
Yet more telling was the Swedish initiative’s condemnation of what it termed Israel’s discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in east Jerusalem, expressing grave concern over the situation there within the context of Israel’s ultimate plan for annexation. According to the initiative, the Council of the European Union has never recognized the annexation of east Jerusalem, and called for an unspecified resolution of the issue of Jerusalem as the capital of two states. Israel’s swift campaign to pressure EU officials to withdraw support for the initiative, which resulted in the watered down version they approved, seems to indicate it doesn’t appreciate any interference in the steps it has taken to slowly but surely annex east Jerusalem. Israel’s response to the initiative could not make its intentions any clearer – it wants an undivided Jerusalem entirely under Israeli control, not one shared with the Palestinians.
To this end, the original initiative demanded a cessation of settlement activities and the dismantling of outposts, and also reminded Israel that the settlements, the separation barrier and the policy of house demolitions are all illegal under international law. At this point we all know that reminders, initiatives, resolutions and reports have done nothing to actually stop Israel’s illegal occupation practices in their tracks. This would seem to indicate that the EU vote to back Jerusalem as a joint capital and the EU commission of Jerusalem report will simply join the ranks of all the other failed attempts to hold Israel accountable.
Yet what is interesting is that the EU commission of Jerusalem has never made its report public before, and Israel has always pressured them not to, citing fear that it might exacerbate what it terms is the already negative European image of Israel. The truth is, Israel has enjoyed control over media perceptions of its illegal occupation practices for decades and has a powerful arsenal of weapons with which to turn down the volume of and deflect attention away from those who bring attention to them. Perhaps the decision made by the EU commission of Jerusalem to release the report is an indication that Israel’s impunity is beginning to wane, and its previous strategies of silencing voices of conscience are no longer as effective.
Even if nothing tangible comes from the EU commission of Jerusalem report or the EU vote to back Jerusalem as a joint capital, they nonetheless represent a very positive step in the right direction. Furthermore, they may be an indication that the tide of world opinion of Israel is finally shifting in the favor of justice. Until more governmental bodies have the courage to boldly address Israel’s illegal occupation practices, nothing is likely to change here. I can only hope my own US government will follow the EU’s lead and recognize that maintaining the status quo hasn’t worked. Though it remains to be seen what the impact will be, at least someone is trying a much needed new approach.
Britain Eakin is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at email@example.com.