The European Union committee that deals with Middle East affairs is recommending that the EU’s 28 member states ask Israel to reimburse them for the demolition of buildings and infrastructure projects in Area C of the West Bank that they helped finance, European and Israeli diplomats told Haaretz.
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The Foreign Ministry was outraged by the resolution and has lodged protests with the EU and several member states.
Two Israeli diplomats and two European diplomats said the resolution was approved at a meeting two weeks ago of the EU’s Mashreq/Maghreb Working Party, also known as the MaMa committee. The committee comprises Middle East experts from all 28 member states. The committee’s resolution are not binding but can be used as the basis for binding resolutions that may be adopted later by the EU’s Political and Security Committee or by its Foreign Affairs Council.
The European diplomats attributed the resolution to the lack of progress in negotiations between Israel and the EU over the situation in Area C, in which Israel has both military and civilian control. The negotiations involved, among other issues, the European demand to stop the demolition of Palestinian structures Israel claims were built illegally, including many built with European funding. A few rounds of talks held a few months ago ended without results.
According to the European diplomats, the halt in the talks led some states that are more critical of Israel to launch a process of demanding compensation from Israel for European-funded projects that were demolished. The European diplomats said that Germany categorically objected to the move and managed to soften the resolution so that it only recommends requesting compensation, saying member states could do so if they chose. The MaMa committee also decided to intensify and toughen the manner and wording of the EU’s protests against and condemnations of the destruction of European-funded structures in Area C.
Although this was a nonbinding resolution by a relatively low-level committee, Israel’s Foreign Ministry was furious. The head of the ministry’s diplomatic office, Alon Ushpiz, and other senior Foreign Ministry officials held difficult talks with EU envoy to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen as well as the ambassadors of some leading members of the EU. The Foreign Ministry officials claimed the decision constituted a renewal of European moves against Israel that had ostensibly been halted once the decision on labeling products produced in the settlements had been made.
The European diplomats noted that during some of the discussions held over the past two weeks, European ambassadors stressed to Jerusalem officials that they’d warned Israel and asked it to change its policy of demolitions in Area C, but that Israel had refused. “You can only blame yourselves,” one European ambassador said to senior Foreign Ministry officials.
In May, Faaborg-Andersen conveyed an extremely harsh message to Israel with regard to the demolition of Palestinian structures in Area C, including ones funded by the EU. During a meeting with Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai last week, Faaborg-Andersen also warned that the massive demolitions could harm the relationship between the EU and Israel.
From early 2016 there has been a significant increase in action by the Civil Administration against what Israel calls illegal Palestinian construction in Area C, particularly that financed by the EU. While the EU claims that the construction it finances in Area C is humanitarian aid to the Palestinian residents, Israel claims it’s a political move aimed at helping the Palestinians establish facts on the ground. The main reason for the increase in the number of demolitions has been political pressure by the right-wing group Regavim, aided by Knesset members including Moti Yogev and Bezalel Smotrich of Habayit Hayehudi.
Smotrich and Yogev, together with Regavim representatives, have discussed the issue many times in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s subcommittee on Judea and Samaria. They have demanded that Mordechai and the Foreign Ministry act against the European activity in Area C. The right-wing pressure to continue demolishing such Palestinian structures has further intensified recently give the plan to demolish the illegal outpost of Amona and illegally built structures in other West Bank settlements.
In the European Parliament, pressure in the opposite director is being brought to bear on EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini by EU Parliament members who are demanding tough action against Israel for demolishing projects built by the EU or by member states. In addition to the EU itself, several EU states help build Palestinian structures or infrastructures in Area C directly, among them several key allies of Israel such as Germany, Italy, Britain, France and Poland. Demolishing these structures or even just issuing demolition orders puts stress on Israel’s ties to these countries. Demands for compensation by these countries could lead to serious diplomatic crises.