A group of former ecumenical accompaniers got together to share updates over the situation in occupied Palestinian territory with European Union (EU) officials. They particularly focused on the conditions in so-called Area C of the West bank, which contains most Israeli settlements.
The group of eight ecumenical accompaniers from Finland, Germany, UK, Ireland, Sweden and Norway participated in meetings from June 4-8 June in Brussels, Belgium. The visit was organized by Anne-Marie Vuignier, staff of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
The visit included several meetings with members of the European parliament, permanent representatives of various countries to the EU and civil servants from the European External Action Service and the EU Commission.
“Over the past months, important demolitions and evictions are taking place in Area C, mainly due to the extension of settlements,” said Vuignier.
“There is also an increasing amount of settler violence in the region that is leading to forced displacement of Palestinian population to Areas A and B. This trend is making the prospect of a viable Palestinian state very unlikely,” she said.
She was speaking in reference to the 1993 Oslo Accords, officially known as the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements. The declaration created three temporary, distinct administrative divisions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip until the establishment of a final status accord. With the accords, 61 percent of the West Bank was designated as Area C under full Israeli civil and security control.
The EU has systematically condemned settlements as illegal. On May 14, EU foreign ministers issued a statement accusing Israel of accelerating settlement construction and tightening its control over East Jerusalem at the expense of Palestinians.
“The EU expresses deep concern about developments on the ground, which threaten to make a two-state solution impossible,” read the statement.
The ministers also criticized what they said are the worsening conditions for the Palestinians living in Area C. This area makes up 60 percent of the West Bank, is under Israeli control and is also where most Jewish settlements are located.
Nevertheless, the EU continues to support Israel through common research programs which benefit companies, such as Ahava, operating in West-Bank settlement.
The EU is in the process of adding a Protocol on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) to the EU-Israel Association agreement. It would allow pharmaceutical products from Israel to enter the EU markets without further checks, making them very competitive in the EU.
“We believe that in order to be consistent with its policies, the EU should make sure that none of its agreement includes advantages for industries based in the illegal settlements,” affirmed Vuignier.
She went on to say that “we also believe the ‘more for more’ or ‘less for less’, the so-called positive conditionality approach, should be applied by the EU in its relations with all South Mediterranean countries, not granting new advantages before Israel makes tangible progress toward the respect of its international law obligations.”
Similar to efforts of this visit, the EAPPI Lobby Week at the EU was held from Oct. 10-14 last year, focusing on the issue of forced displacement in Area C.
In the previous lobbying efforts, 21 ecumenical accompaniers met a total of 111 members of the European parliament and officials from 24 member states, as well as 11 permanent representatives from seven countries.
In Brussels, ecumenical accompaniers called on the EU to pressure Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian structures and rescind all pending demolition orders. They also asked them to call on Israel to stop confiscating Palestinian land, halt settlement construction, adopt a system of fair water distribution in the occupied Palestinian territory and abide by the United Nations Children’s Rights Convention.
The WCC has officially declared that settlements as well as their expansion are illegal, stressing that they are prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention and are incompatible with peace.