Last week, Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly terminated the mandate of the TIPH international monitoring forces in Hebron, in violation of the Oslo II Accord of 1995 and the UN Security Council resolution 904.
That mission, now effectively expelled, staffed by civil observers from Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Italy and Turkey, was established following the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre - in which 29 Palestinians were killed by far-right Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein - to help ensure the security (and sense of security) of the Palestinian civilians of Hebron.
The rationale of Netanyahu’s counter-peace measure was explained in clear terms; no more eyes on Israel’s conduct in this part of the occupied territories, or in any of it. "We will not allow the presence of an international force that operates against us," Netanyahu declared.
Don’t be misled that Netanyahu’s decision to effectively expel those monitoring Palestinian human rights in Hebron was the result of any recent shortage of threats to Palestinians’ lives and safety.
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It came only days after a Palestinian farmer was killed and ten others injured by an armed Israeli settler in the West Bank village of Al-Mughayyir; after the convoy of then-PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah was stoned by settlers and several assistants injured, and after 5 IDF soldiers were indicted for severely beating and abusing a blindfolded father in front of his handcuffed son. And the list goes on.
It is exactly in tense periods such as this that peacekeeping missions in the West Bank are most needed. But Netanyahu’s stark decision to remove the only fragile barrier to endless tensions between 800 heavily guarded far-right settlers and the Palestinian residents of Hebron only signifies that he no longer gives a damn about the peace process or about building trust, and no longer cares about provoking the international community.
After all, the settlers don’t need international protection: they’ve got the IDF. Palestinian civilians, on the other hand, are defenseless.
The international community, in turn, also gave minimal or no attention to the recent events in the occupied West Bank, not least the termination of the Hebron observers.
The response of the EU - as a central player in the peace process – was hardly combative. The EU stated the expulsion "risks further deteriorating the already fragile situation on the ground," and stressed "Israel's obligations under international law to protect the Palestinian people in Hebron."
The individual EU member states who contributed to the formation of TIPH issued a mild statement expressing "regret" for Netanyahu’s decision, but not challenging it, while adding their "hope" that an Israeli government will renew the mandate for TIPH, some day in the future. The only participating country using the phrase "strongly condemns" was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Turkey.
This unsurprising position from the EU unfortunately asserts the union’s continued paralysis when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In confidential correspondence and behind closed doors, EU officials often express concern over the "systematic legal discrimination" against occupied Palestinians, the tribulations Palestinians endure and the dangers yet lurking in the background, unraveling one after the other in the occupied territories.
But those officials are loathe to act on their convictions; as once put by a European ambassador to the UN to a good friend of mine: "Palestinians have my sympathy, while Israel has my support."
In public, it’s an entirely different story. Most EU officials are too distant to acknowledge the realities on the ground, or to counter obstacles to peace. This self-defeating silence stems often from personal careerism and a misinterpreted sense of neutrality that is further destroying prospects for peace.
With no concrete peace-making strategy, no clear vision and no strong position on the conflict, the EU’s policy, in practice, is confined to adapting to the unconstrained exercise of Israel’s power in the Palestinian territories. Its other function is to work hard to prevent an outbreak of Palestinian insurgency, by consistently numbing Palestinians into aid-dependence passivity.
Put politely, a senior EU official explained to me once that, "Our policy is not to advance the two-state solution, as much as to preserve it from destruction." This, the EU believes, is usually achieved through funding projects, such as infrastructure in embattled Palestinian regions, most prominently in Area C, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
However, in Knesset election season, with Israeli right-wingers competing for who can most comprehensively reject the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, and an entire election race centered around inciting against, abusing and attacking Palestinians, the EU’s idleness - amidst its booming cultural and economic exchanges with Israel - renders it complicit in the perpetuation of Palestinian suffering.
When asked if the EU would ever contemplate alternative solutions to the conflict, such as the one state solution - when the possibility of reaching a two-state settlement is becoming increasingly unrealistic - another senior EU official told me, "Only if an Israeli government accepts the one-state solution would the EU adopt and advance this option."
But for as long as Israel’s governing right chooses no solution to the conflict, and continues to make a viable Palestinian state impossible, the EU will only, in effect, work to contain and suppress anger in what remains of a future Palestinian entity.
It’s about time the EU changes its strategy regarding the Palestinians to one with more moral and legal backbone. And if actionable policies are beyond the EU’s capacity, then the least they can offer to the isolated, immiserated and increasingly despairing Palestinians is consistent support, solidarity and acknowledgment of their dire situation.
If the EU’s traditional silence continues, then Palestinians may well soon witness the official annexation of the West Bank, an act pushed recently by the Knesset Speaker himself, Yuli Edelstein.
Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights. Twitter: @muhammadshehad2