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Twenty-First Century Crusades?

Story 43
Prediction 14: Possible EU troop movements to Israel and/or the Middle East

Europe and Jerusalem
By Jamal Al Majaida

European governments should consider direct intervention in an attempt to curb the systematic measures being undertaken by Israel to increase its control and population in the historically - and legally - Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem, a highly sensitive EU report that was leaked recently to the press concluded.

The confidential report, prepared by top diplomats representing the 25 EU governments in the city, warns that the chances of a two-state solution are being eroded by Israel's "deliberate policy" - in breach of international of law - of "completing the annexation of East Jerusalem."

"European governments should consider direct intervention in an attempt to curb the systematic measures being undertaken by Israel ..."

European foreign ministers earlier vetoed planned publication of the report which also warns that rapid expansion of the Jewish settlements in and around East Jerusalem, along with use of the separation barrier to isolate East Jerusalem from the West Bank, risk radicalizing the hitherto relatively quiescent Palestinian population of East Jerusalem.

The Independent newspaper described the report as the most detailed and remorselessly critical account yet produced by Western international body of Israel's policy in East Jerusalem, which has been occupied since it seizure in the 1967 Six Day War. It points out that Jerusalem is already one of the trickiest issues on the road to a final peace deal between Israel and Palestinians. It adds that as a result of the measures, prospects for a two state solution with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine are receding.

Among the recommendations in the report, drafted in October during the British EU presidency which ends next month, the EU is urged to consider a series of steps including direct support for projects that help Palestinians to conduct legal battles against house demolitions, which it points out tripled in the city during 2004, and the persistent refusal to grant building permits to all but a small minority of Palestinians. The report also suggests holding meetings with the Palestinian leadership in East Jerusalem, presumably to demonstrate that contrary to the Israeli government's goal of Jerusalem as its undivided capital it sees East Jerusalem as the future capital of the Palestinian state.

The EU foreign ministers meeting have decided against publication of the report in its present form because of the risk to its relationship with the Jewish state especially when for the first time Israel has given its blessing to the EU having a key security role in the region by monitoring the Rafah crossing point from Gaza into Egypt.

The 11-page report leaked to the press says the E1 project for a major expansion of Maale Adumim, the largest Israeli West Bank settlement, to join it to Jerusalem threatens to complete the encircling of the city by Jewish settlements, diving the West Bank into two separate geographical areas.

It says that, while the present 30,000 residents of the settlement at present occupy only 15 percent of the planned area, the total plan envisages an area of 53 square miles "larger than Tel Aviv" extending through the West Bank between Jerusalem and Jericho.

While the plan will divide the West Bank from itself and from East Jerusalem, the report says the economic prospects of the West Bank (which has a GDP per year per head of $1,000) are highly dependent on access to East Jerusalem (GDP of $3,500). It adds: "From an economic perspective, the viability of a Palestinian state depends to a great extent on the preservation of organic links between East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem."

The document says when the separation barrier is completed, Israel will control all access to and from East Jerusalem, cutting off its Palestinian satellite cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, and the rest of the West Bank and beyond. This will have serious economic, social and humanitarian consequences for the Palestinians. By vigorously applying policies on residency and ID status, Israel will be able to finally to complete the isolation of East Jerusalem the political commercial and infrastructural centre of Palestinian life.

It adds: "Israel's activities in Jerusalem are in violation of both is Roadmap obligations and international law. We and others in the international community have made our concerns clear on numerous occasions with varying effect. Palestinians are, without exception, deeply alarmed about East Jerusalem. They feat that Israel will "get away with it" under cover of disengagement (from Gaza. " The document says smaller Jewish settlements inside Palestinian areas are sometimes installed by would-be settlers, preying on Palestinians suffering financial hardship or simply (occupying) properties by force."

Besides suggesting that a formal call by the EU and the US-led international quartet on Israel to stop prejudicing final status negotiations by its actions in East Jerusalem would be timely, one proposal is for the EU to consider excluding East Jerusalem from certain EU/Israel joint co-operation activities. While the document does not say so, this could realistically mean halting European funding for road, rail and projects which contribute to the process of annexation.

The report says the purpose of keeping West Bank ID holders out of East Jerusalem and East Jerusalem ID holders out of the West Bank is almost certainly demographic, to reduce the Palestinian population of Jerusalem while exerting efforts to boost the number of Israelis living in the city East and West.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem after capturing the territory in the 1967 war. Most western countries, including the US and EU members, have their embassies in Tel Aviv and consulates in Jerusalem.

Some 200, 000 Jewish settlers live in east Jerusalem. They moved there since 1967 while the Palestinian population in the city is now 2,301,000.

But the EU report pointed to a number of Israeli policies its said risked radicalizing the hitherto relatively quiescent Palestinian population of east Jerusalem." These include: the barrier around East Jerusalem, expansion of Jewish settlements, demolition of Palestinian homes, stricter enforcement of rules separating Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem from those in the West Bank, including a reduction of work permits, and discriminatory taxation.

The report says that Israel is making it increasingly difficult for Palestinians to travel between East Jerusalem and the West Bank to visit holy places and to reach hospitals and schools.

Clear statements by the EU and quartet (US, Russia, the United Nations and EU) that Jerusalem remains an issue for negotiation by the two sides, and that Israel should desist from all measures designed to pre-empt such negotiations, would be timely, the report said.

According to the Times, the report recommends that European officials take a more aggressive stance toward Israeli policies in East Jerusalem, such as holding political meeting with Palestinian ministers in East Jerusalem instead of the West Bank and asking Israel to halt discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, especially concerning working permits, building permit, house demolitions, taxation and expenditure.

The document written by British consulate officials in East Jerusalem as part of Britain's presidency of the European Union, was presented to an EU council of ministers led by Britain's foreign minister Jack Straw, according to the Guardian. It said the EU council's discussion of the matter was postponed until next month at the behest of Italy.

What will come out of the very important report is still not clear. Israel has already waged a defamation campaign against it accusing the EU of taking an anti-Israeli stance. Israel has also announced that if any EU official will hold a meeting with Palestinian Ministers in East Jerusalem, neither the PM of Israel, nor the FM will accept to meet them i.e. the EU ministers or officials.

Based on previous experience, it is widely believed that Israel will start blackmailing the EU in order to shelve the report and forget it by creating problems for the EU Mission on the Rafah crossing-point.

What is important for the issue to be activated is actually not what the Europeans will decide on the 12th of December, but how the American administration will react.

Will the White House and State Department lend their support for the European report, or will they kill it and add it to the hundreds of resolutions and plans that have been taken on Arab-Israeli conflict since 1947.

To give a real support to the report is essential and crucial if the international community is keen to go ahead with resolving this long-standing conflict and not only to help put an end to the sufferings of the Palestinian people.

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