Embargoed until 00:01am CET Monday May 27
A year after all 27 EU countries committed to challenging settlement expansion, forced displacement, and demolition of Palestinian property in an unprecedented Foreign Affairs Council statement, approvals for illegal settlements have increased and hundreds of Palestinian homes and structures have been bulldozed despite EU saying this must stop.
The Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), a coordinating body representing over 80 international aid and development agencies working in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), today issued a new report urging the European Union to match their strong words with action in order to effectively challenge Israeli government policies that are creating unbearable conditions for many of the 150,000 Palestinians living under full Israeli military and civil control in Area C, which makes up 60 percent of the West Bank.
The agencies warned that chances for a just and durable solution that allows Palestinians and Israelis to live with peace and security were slipping away as the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate.
More than 600 houses have been built in the past year in the illegal Israeli settlements while 535 Palestinian-owned homes and structures have been destroyed, leaving 784 people homeless or displaced. Around 30 European-funded structures have been demolished during this same time and dozens more, including basic tents, water cisterns and animal pens are under threat of demolition. Europe has made clear its objections to Israel's continued settlement expansion and demolition of Palestinian and European property. Yet, its response has mostly come in words only, with action remaining on an ad hoc and uncoordinated basis. If this continues, living conditions for Palestinians are set to worsen, and vital European tax-payers' investments will be wasted.
"Just a year ago, EU governments injected fresh hope that they would collectively use their political weight to improve the living conditions of Palestinians and halt Israeli violations of international law, but looking back, we can say they are at serious risk of failing both Palestinians and Europeans," said Charles Silva, Country Director for Action Against Hunger (ACF) and AIDA Chair.
With European leaders set to meet again to discuss the Middle East peace process today, the report "Failing to Make the Grade: How the EU can pass its own test and work to improve the lives of Palestinians in Area C," explains what they can and must do to put their words into action that results in positive changes on the ground. The report stresses that Europe must honour its pledges to increase much-needed development aid for Area C and to push the government of Israel to remove restrictions that leave Palestinians vulnerable to demolition and prevent them from building proper homes, schools, roads, water infrastructure and electrical grids.
The report illustrates how some European countries have been working to protect communities in Area C from demolition by investing in village plans. While the Israeli authorities are in the process of considering applications, none of the 32 European-funded village plans to date have been fully approved. This is in sharp contrast to the tendering of at least 1,967 new settlement housing units in the year since the EU statement, a four-fold increase from 2011.
"Last year EU governments said for the first time it was also in their own interest to bring an end to the conflict in Israel and Palestine - if they are serious, they can and must work together to address harmful policies of the Israeli government and support the most vulnerable Palestinians in the West Bank," said Nishant Pandey Oxfam Country Director.
Tony Laurance, CEO from Medical Aid for Palestinians added:
"Israel is morally and legally responsible for the wellbeing of Palestinian men, women and children in the occupied Palestinian territory. EU countries have an obligation to address violations of International Law and collectively to put pressure on Israel to end policies impeding Palestinian development."
AIDA members are available for interviews and can facilitate media fieldtrips to Area C. To schedule an interview or fieldtrip, please contact:
Willow Heske, AIDA Communications at firstname.lastname@example.org or + 972 (0) 597133646 or +972 (0) 546202994
or Louise Finan, ACF Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at email@example.com or +972 (0) 544617274 or +972 (0) 595988835
or Janna Hamilton, Oxfam Media Lead at firstname.lastname@example.org or +972 (0) 542542408
Notes to editors:
1. On May 14, 2012, EU foreign ministers adopted some of the most extensive and far-reaching recommendations on the issue of the Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory. In particular, the EU ministers approved specific recommendations for developing Area C and improving Israel's policies that are currently damaging to the development of Palestinian livelihoods and for the future viability of a Palestinian state. It also called on the Government of Israel to end impunity on settler violence, as well as allow the EU to pursue development projects in Palestinian communities without risks of Israeli demolitions. In addition, for the first time, the EU declared: "Ending the conflict was a European interest".
2. More than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank is designated as "Area C", meaning it falls under full Israeli military and civil control. An estimated 150,000 Palestinians live there among 325,000 Israelis living in settlements that are illegal under international law. Area C is home to some of the most vulnerable Palestinian communities who are isolated from services provided by the Palestinian Authority in other parts of the West Bank. Palestinians living in Area C rely heavily on humanitarian and development assistance.
3. Israeli government demolition of Palestinian structures typically takes place because they lack building permits, which are hard to obtain, with 94 percent of Palestinian applications for building permits denied in recent years.
4. In the May 2012 Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, the EU member states reaffirmed that Israeli settlements remain illegal under international law, irrespective of recent decisions by the Government of Israel.
5. The release and report focus here on EU-Israeli relations because that is the focus of the FAC conclusions and of recent EU Heads of Mission reports. The EU and Israel hold a structured dialogue on human rights by virtue of their Association Agreement. AIDA condemns violence against civilians on all sides and calls on all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations in line with international law.