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April 4, 2022 11:21 am
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How EU Funding of West Bank Activities Breaches Int’l Law & Undermines Peace

avatar by Akiva Van Koningsveld

Opinion

European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, in this file picture taken October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

In possibly its strongest rebuke of European Union (EU) policy to date, an official report released by Israel’s Intelligence Ministry — first translated into English in full by HonestReporting — outlines how Brussels is bankrolling the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) illegal “takeover” of areas that are internationally recognized as being under Israeli control.

The document details how foreign governments have funneled hundreds of millions of euros into Palestinian projects in Area C of the West Bank (also known as Judea and Samaria), in violation of the relevant international law and applicable agreements, namely the Oslo Accords that govern the current status of the territory.

Moreover, by bypassing negotiations with Israel, the PA and its European enablers have harmed the prospects for peace, all the while endangering Israeli and Palestinian lives.

According to the report, titled, “The Palestinian Campaign for Area C — Shaping a Security Reality on the Ground, Description and Implications,” the PA administration in Ramallah is spearheading a deliberate, concerted effort to bring the entire West Bank under Palestinian jurisdiction.

To this end, the Palestinians have used EU funds to build thousands of illegal structures, and to take hold of scores of square kilometers of agricultural land.

The 76-page research study, prepared in June 2021, but only declassified and made public this year, describes:

[…] the systematic, institutional effort of the opponent [Palestinian] establishment to alter the security and civil reality in C territories in a manner which undermines the [Israeli] State’s authority and undermines the commitments the Palestinian Authority took upon itself as part of these [Oslo] agreements.

Israeli intelligence suggests that the EU has not only — since 2014 — supplied Ramallah with the financial means for its land grab project, but also that the bloc of 27 countries provides the PA with tangible, actionable, legal, and diplomatic support for it — in defiance of Europe’s own stated commitment to the Oslo framework and direct peace negotiations with Israel.

The Palestinian Authority’s Unilateral Land Grab Campaign

The Israeli intelligence report posits that over the past eight years, the Palestinian Authority has received over half a billion dollars to carry out “unilateral land seizure moves.” These funds, according to Israeli intelligence, are provided to Ramallah by “foreign governments (the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan), a range of international support agencies, economic organizations such as the World Bank, UN bodies and the European Union, and also, in separate channels, a variety of Arabic and Islamic organizations.”

The report continues:

The bottom line is, as part of the moves to seize territory, between 35,000-40,000 structures have been built in [Area C], intended for various uses, including agriculture and industry. These structures cover an area of approximately 35 to 80 square kilometers. It should be noted that the most significant increase in absolute terms was recorded in the northern Samaria region, where the area of the lands seized by the Palestinian construction in Area C increased by over 150%.

Data published by the Regavim Movement, an Israeli NGO focused on land ownership issues, previously showed that Palestinians, over the last two years, built at least 5,097 illegal structures in Area C, or an average of seven per day. During the same period, the PA seized thousands of acres of agricultural land in the area.

The report adds:

It must be noted that this activity has also included harming natural assets (building inside nature reserves, illegal quarries, pollution and dumping of waste), harm to antiquities (there are approximately 10,000 archaeological sites in Judea and Samaria) and demands to turn part of them into Muslim sites.

These activities are not just undermining the prospects for a peaceful settlement to an ostensible territorial dispute, but are also illegal under international law.

The Oslo Accords & International Law

After the signing of the Oslo Accords, a series of agreements forged in the 1990s between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the newly created Palestinian Authority was given control over Areas A and B of the West Bank, home to 90% of of the Arab population therein. Meanwhile, Israel was to retain complete control over Area C, which contains all Jewish West Bank communities.

However, the Intelligence Ministry report reveals that,

since the implementation of the Oslo Accords in Judea and Samaria and the division of the land, the Palestinians have been taking action to occupy lands in Area C. Since 2009 (the Fayyad Plan), these efforts have been guided centrally by the Palestinian Authority (2009) in order to establish a state “from the bottom up” through unilaterally establishing facts on the ground and in view of the Authority’s recognition that it is unable to advance a political solution on its own terms.

Yet the Oslo Accords carry the weight of international law, as outlined by former attorney-adviser in the Office of the Legal Adviser of the US Department of State Geoffrey R. Watson in his book, “The Oslo Accords: International Law and the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreements.” While the PLO initially did not have the capacity to enter into international treaties in the traditional sense, the Oslo Accords effectively constitute legally binding agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under customary international law.

The 1995 interim framework — which was based on the premise that so-called final status issues between the sides (such as, for example, the contours of Israel’s eventual borders) would be determined in subsequent negotiations — established that no construction can take place in Area C without the approval of the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration. At the same time, the Oslo documents make clear that the parties never agreed to a ban on Israeli construction in the West Bank (see here, here, and here).

As such, despite PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s repeated threats to renounce “all the commitments of the Oslo Accords,” the terms agreed to remain in effect, and in some cases override possible claims by the Palestinian Authority stemming from the Geneva Conventions (as analyzed here).

In fact, under international law, treaties can only be unilaterally abrogated under very specific circumstances. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties enunciates that, in the absence of explicit termination clauses, parties to international agreements generally can only unilaterally withdraw under narrow circumstances, which do not apply in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian accords (for more background, see here, here, and here).

Therefore, most legal scholars agree that — and taking into account the Palestinian Authority’s ongoing violations of the Oslo agreements — the arrangements between Jerusalem and Ramallah remain in full force.

The ongoing relevance of the Oslo Accords was more recently reiterated by longtime diplomat Dennis Ross, who served as former US president Bill Clinton’s Middle East envoy when the deals were signed. “These agreements, endorsed by the international community, form the cornerstone of the bilateral peace process until this day and continue to govern the relations between the parties,” Ross wrote in a submission to the International Criminal Court in 2020 [emphasis added].

But the illegal PA-EU land seizure effort taking place in Area C is, by contrast, making the actualization of the Oslo Accords more difficult, as the subversive initiative seeks to, according to the Israeli intelligence report, establish “irreversible facts […] on the ground which have far-reaching implications on a future political agreement.”

The report also stresses that the land takeover is already endangering the lives of Israelis and Palestinians alike:

[…] This Palestinian activity has created a significant constraint on the freedom of movement along the main traffic arteries in the region, while transforming “traffic corridors” from the Oslo era into “lanes,” which are overseen and have come under threat, which might impact the security of the traffic along sections of some of the most important routes […]

For nearly three decades, the European Union has championed a “two-state solution based on the Oslo Accords and on international law,” often warning against perceived Israeli “unilateral departure[s] from the Oslo Accords.” As recently as last year, the European envoy to the United Nations Security Council explicitly invoked the agreements in an attack against alleged unilateral Israeli moves in the West Bank.

And while Europe has paid lip service to the need for direct talks between the two parties based on past agreements, with then-German foreign minister Heiko Maas in May 2021 saying that there is “no alternative to direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians,” Brussels is clearly abetting unilateral steps by the Palestinian Authority.

The PA’s illegal campaign in Area C of the West Bank is being funded by European taxpayers, and is effectively reducing the prospects for a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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