Bepi Pezzulli
International counsel & foreign policy adviser

The Five Stars see oppression where there is none

The Five Star Party’s anti-Zionist campaign has switched gear and gone into maximum alert mode. Diplomatic strikes against Israel by now take place weekly and a note issued by Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 17 November is a prime example. It stated: “Italy expresses deep concern about the opening of the tender procedure for the construction of 1,257 housing units in Givat Hamatos and requests that the Israeli authorities revoke this decision.” The note echoes one of like tenor issues by Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union, according to which “any settlement construction will cause serious damage to the prospects for a viable and contiguous Palestinian State and, more broadly, to the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution in line with the internationally agreed parameters and with Jerusalem as the future capital of two states”.

The two-state solution and the partition of Jerusalem is one of the Five Star party’s deep-seated obsessions. The party sees anti-Zionism and support for the Palestinian cause as a matter of political identity and makes no endeavor to stray from this central dogma.

Givat Hamatos is a complex story however. The neglected caravan site has housed Ethiopians refugees who made Aliyah since the 1990s and its regeneration has long been seen as necessary in order to fill a social and educational vacuum. Furthermore, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clarified the last time he was chided over this matter, Givat Hamatos is not a settlement; it is a Jewish neighborhood in Israel’s capital. The controversial construction project includes hundreds of housing units for the adjacent Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, and Givat Hamatos is actually in the far south of the city, not in its east, and outside of the “green line.” This dislocation epitomizes the dictates of the narrative that continually seeks to highlight Palestinian “oppression” where there is none, while omitting the fact that there are real resident needs and a shortage of land available for Jewish housing in Jerusalem – an issue that has caused not only a spike in property prices, but also a constant exodus from the capital.

Against widespread international criticism, Netanyahu’s coalition whip Miki Zohar (Likud) praised the planned development as allowing contiguity between Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. “This is a neighborhood situated in a strategic location between Beit Safafa and Hebron Road. The construction here is essential to preserve Jewish contiguity between Talpiot and Gilo,” stated Zohar.

But Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation turns a blind eye to urban regeneration. It stated the following: “Italy, together with its European partners, has repeatedly urged Israel to stop all settlement activities and to abstain from taking unilateral actions contrary to international law because they could further undermine the already compromised climate of trust necessary for the resumption of the peace process.” This is a leaf out of the Five Star Party’s playbook. But a more balanced stance would be better suited to preserve Italy’s vested interests in the region as a new geopolitical equilibrium emerges.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to travel to the region this week where he is expected to tour the Golan Heights and visit a settlement in the West Bank – a stop previous U.S. Secretaries of State have avoided. Political pundits have speculated that Pompeo’s West Bank settlement visit might signal his desire to position himself for a presidential bid in 2024.

About the Author
Bepi Pezzulli is a Solicitor specialised in International law and a foreign policy adviser covering Israel, the UK and the US. In 2018, he published "The other Brexit" (Milano Finanza Books), investigating the economic and geopolitical implications of Brexit. Currently, he is Editor-in-Chief of La Voce Repubblicana; a columnist for the Italian daily financial newspaper Milano Finanza; and a pundit for the financial TV channel CNBC. He received degrees at Luiss Guido Carli in Rome (LLB), New York University (LLM), and Columbia University (JD).
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