Today brought about a rather telling coincidence, one that says so much about Israel, the conflict with the Palestinians and how much of the rest of the world chooses to see things. First came Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas’ rejection of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer to resume peace talks, and then came the publication of the EU report condemning Israel’s activities in the West Bank.
One might have assumed that with several of the EU member states staring directly into the abyss of pending economic crisis that the governments of Europe would have matters at home to be concerning themselves with before setting off around the globe to lecture others. But no, 27 European Foreign Ministers published a statement, not to condemn the ongoing Palestinian refusal to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel but instead to reiterate a list of grievances against Israel, many of which seem to bare little relevance to one another so that the statement reads like an arbitrarily assembled series of rather unnuanced allegations.
Much of this three page statement dwells on the subject of the West Bank Jews – the Settlers; a group of people who in the eyes of the EU seem to be rendered criminal by their very existence. The report does however go on to expound more specifically on the matter of ‘Settler violence’ and ‘Settler extremism’, a point that wouldn’t be so objectionable if it wasn’t for the rather conspicuous absence of any mention of the fact that the Jewish residents of the West Bank have been subject to far more extensive and far more shocking acts of violence from their Palestinian neighbours. It is as if in the eyes of this statement’s more than slightly self-righteous authors, Jews who find themselves in an Arab majority region can only expect to be the subject of attack and so such incidents are unremarkable and thus unworthy of mention.
Naturally, ‘Settlement expansion’ gets a shout out in this run through of the usual litany of complaints levied at the Jewish State. This tired old unthinking accusation is as misleading as it is disingenuous and of course never stops to contemplate the question of why exactly there should be an area of the world from which Jews are forbidden from living on the basis of no other grounds but their ethnicity, and furthermore why that piece of territory is the very same area that Jews have the greatest historical connection to. Yet even if you do manage to make the mental leap to embrace the point of view that there is something innately wrong with Jews living beyond what was once Israel’s 1949 armistice line with the then invading Jordanian army, you would still be hard pushed to point to any significant recent increase of the Jewish presence in the West Bank. The Jewish population of the West Bank has hovered at the 300,000 mark for several years now, their communities built on just 1.7% of the West Bank with new construction typically taking place within existing communities and the vast majority of the population growth being attributable to births. Perhaps the Europeans would ask that the West Bank Jews freeze their birth rates as well as their building of new homes.
Those who believe that matters of urban planning are at the root cause of the Middle East conflict are liable to believe anything and yet today’s EU statement indeed seriously suggests that Settlements threaten the viability of a two state solution. Yet surely what really stands in the way of any such agreement is the fact that the very day that this report was published Mahmud Abbas was refusing yet another offer from the Israeli Prime Minister to begin talks without preconditions. With the Palestinians appearing in no rush to formulate an agreement to create a state of their own and with every area of territory conceded by the Israelis having been used to launch yet more terror attacks against Israeli civilians, the land for peace formula does indeed look pretty unviable. And so with no willingness to give consideration to the realities as they exist and despite almost twenty years in failed experiments along the two state model Israel, Obama, The EU and the West are left repeating the now rather hollow sounding ‘two states, for two peoples’ mantra. However, what the events of today show is that it doesn’t matter how loudly the Palestinian leadership keeps saying ‘NO’, those such as the 27 EU Foreign Ministers will stick with the familiar script they feel so comfortable with and don’t have to think about and will keep on finding reasons to place the blame with Israel.