Palestinian NGO in Brussels launches debate with the EU on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Palestinian NGO in Brussels launches debate with the EU on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Air view of the Temple Mount/ al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf in Jerusalem, the most contested place in the conflict and a final status issue in a comprehensive peace solution. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Avraham Graicer

The European-Palestinian Council for Political Relations (EUPAC) launched its activities last week with a seminar at Press Club Brussels Europe on 'Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories' since the six-days war in 1967 and its settlements there.

To start with, terminology plays an important role in the conflict and reflects the narratives of the two sides.

For Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they live under occupation. For Israelis, all of Jerusalem and the West Bank were part of the historical Jewish homeland and cannot be occupied in the negative sense of the word. Legally they are territory “held” until a political situation will be found and called just ‘the territories' or Judea and Samaria by their Biblical names by Israel.

EUPAC is a new organization in the political landscape in Brussels. It aims at raising awareness about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through seminars and reports, and influencing EU decision makers and the public opinion in Europe. Among others it underlines the need of a realistic understanding of the situation and the Palestinian cause, grounded in reality and supported by evidence.

After the seminar, EUPAC published a concluding statement where it wrote that the Israeli settlements contradict international law and cements the Israeli occupation. It is the cause of confiscation of Palestinian lands, travel restrictions, violation of human rights, soldier brutality, settler violence and the existence of two parallel legal frameworks for Israeli settlers and Palestinian inhabitants.

Many European parliamentarians have noted that the Israeli settlements are a fundamental obstacle to reaching a political solution of the conflict, the statement says. No doubt it is an obstacle for a viable two-state solution according to the EU position paper which was presented at the recent EU-Israel association council meeting in Brussels, the first one after a suspension of ten years.

Among the speakers, Dr. Khalil Al-Tafakji Head of the maps department at the Arab Studies Society in Jerusalem, talked about the reality of Israel’s settlement policy which in his view is getting more and more dangerous. He showed maps of the expansion of the settlements and outposts over the years. The latter are illegal also according to Israeli law but are seldom dismantled.

The Brussels Times asked him about the maps that were discussed at the Camp David summit in 2000 between then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and former Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat, and in 2008 between another Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and current Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Then the two parties were very close to a land-for-peace deal which would have left most of the West Bank for a Palestinian state besides some percentages for Israeli settlement blocs close to the Green Line. This would have been compensated by agreed land swaps. Two crucial final status issues concerning Jerusalem and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees were also discussed.

Is a two-state solution based on Israeli withdrawal and land swaps still relevant and feasible today?

Al-Tafakji replied that it is too late and that there is almost no chance for a two-state solution. He did not address the alternative solution – one state for both nations. From a Palestinian viewpoint – out of frustration about the current hopeless situation – the one-state solution has gained traction, especially if in about 20 years from now the Palestinians would become a majority in the country.

But the two-state solution becomes more unlikely as the occupation continues. On the other hand, a one-state solution is even less realistic and would not meet the national aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.

EU’s role in the peace process was also discussed by the speakers. One of them was Thomas Hammarberg, a Swedish diplomat and politician with a record as Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe. “The meeting is a sign that we need to organize us better to protect the rights of the Palestinians,” he said.

In his view, the reasons for the lack of basic human and political rights for the Palestinians are EU’s difficulty to take a clear stand against the US, which supports Israel, and the political use of the Holocaust against those who criticize Israel’s policy. “We have a strong case but to ensure change we need to start a dialogue with the EU,” he said.

Maciej Konieczny, a leftist member of the Polish parliament (Sejm), claimed that Israel had abandoned the Oslo Accords in 90-ies and that EU’s support of the rights of the Palestinians had not been followed by action for a two-state solution. Anyway, it was an impossible solution now because a Palestinian state would still depend on Israel.

Instead, he argued that EUPAC should review all available EU tools to be used against Israel in the EU member states’ national parliaments. While EUPAC itself did not clarify its stand on the BDS-movement, which calls for boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel, Konieczny apparently supports its. EU stated in its position paper that it is against it.

In many respects, EUPAC slams open doors because EU already shares many of its views. What is EU’s position which EUPAC wants to change?

In the position paper, EU wrote that it continues to be “gravely concerned that the occupation of the Palestinian territory that began in 1967 continues to this day and considers that it remains of utmost importance to restore a political horizon towards a two-state solution”. It called on Israel to change course in dealing with Gaza and the situation in the West Bank.

On the two-state issue, the EU reaffirmed its long-standing position. “The EU is united in its commitment to achieving a two-state solution … that allows the State of Israel to live side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition with an independent, democratic, contiguous, sovereign and viable State of Palestine, with Jerusalem as the future capital of both states.”

But the EU also “strongly condemns the indiscriminate launching of rockets by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups into Israel”. It recognizes Israel’s right to self-defence and to protect its civilian population, while underlining that this right must be exercised in a proportionate manner and in full respect of international humanitarian law.

It was easy to leave the meeting with a feeling that there are no partners for peace on either side. It was the same feeling as when well-known Israeli journalist Gideon Levy visited the press club in April 2019. But it remains to be seen. EUPAC promised that it will draft a report with recommendations based on what was presented by the speakers at the seminar.

Update: The article has been updated for clarity. Terminology plays an important role in the conflict and reflects the narratives of the two sides.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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