Saturday, July 25, 2009

Israel Isolated, Alone, and Shunned by the World Regarding its Settlements

Switzerland has become the latest nation that has asked Israel to stop all its settlement activities in the occupied territories. In a statement released on Thursday July 23, 2009, the Swiss Foreign Minisrty said, "Switzerland is deeply concerned about the destruction of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem near the old town and the planned eviction of Palestinian families." It also said that East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Palestinian territories and under international humanitarian law Israel must protect the local civilian population, and that, "There is no military necessity that could justify the destruction of these houses or the eviction of Palestinian families. The Israeli settlement policy is not compatible with efforts to find a lasting global solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians."

On Tuesday July 21, 2009, both France and Russia asked Netanyahu to freeze settlement activities. Moscow said plans to build 20 apartments in Sheikh Jarrah should be abolished. "The settlement should be stopped immediately in line with the Roadmap," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said. And Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said Tuesday that France summoned Israeli ambassador to demand halt to settlement construction in eastern part of Jerusalem. But in reply, Deputy FM Ayalon of Israel said, " Israel would continue to operate in accordance with its vital national interests. Our right to develop Jerusalem is irrefutable."

Also on Tuesday July 21, 2009, the European Union called on Israel to halt all construction in East Jerusalem, saying it obstructed the Middle East peace process.

The European Commission has criticized Israel's settlement policy. "Israel's settlement policy helps strangle the Palestinian economy and makes the Palestinian government more dependent on foreign aid. Expropriation of fertile land for Israeli settlements, roads that serve settlers only and West Bank checkpoints help constrain Palestinian economic growth and make the Palestinian government more dependent on aid."

The current holder of the European Union's rotating presidency, Sweden, has urged Israel "to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem, including home demolitions and evictions, as stated also by the Quartet 26 June, 2009. Such actions are illegal under international law."

At a meeting in the Italian city of Trieste last month, the Middle East Quartet - the EU, Russia, the USA and the UN - called on Israel to halt West Bank settlement expansion.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration also urged Israel not to build more settlements, and warned that it risked political suicide if it continued to do so. Mr. Puprecht Polenz, the head of German Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Israel's aim of having secure borders would only be possible with a two state solution.

President Barack Obama, too, has asked Netanyahu repeatedly, and through his Middle East envoy Mr. George Mitchell, and also in person in Washington, to stop all settlement building activities.

But so far Netanyahu has resisted pressure successfully, and he hasn't budged. He has said clearly and bluntly that his government has no intention of recognizing international laws or opinions with respect to Israel's land-grab in the West Bank, which he calls "Judea and Samaria." "I wish to make this clear," he has said, "the united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people in the State of Israel."

The United Nations does not recognize the term "Judea and Samaria". People who refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria in political debate usually believe that these territories are part of Israel and should remain so.

On Thursday July 23, 2009, the Israeli government rejected France's demand to halt settlement expansion activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The settlements have been built in violation of the Fouth Geneva Convention, which says the occupying power is not allowed to transfer citizens from its own territory to the occupying territory.

It is now abundantly clear that there is a synchronized effort among the major nations of the world to put pressure on Israel to change its ways. Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, the European Union, Russia, USA and the UN - all have asked Israel to freeze its settlements. India, which aspires to be a world class technology giant and economic super power, is strangely silent regarding Israel's settlements. I suppose Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is still thinking about how to respond and what to say. I wonder whether a cup of strong Darjeeling tea might help to wake him up.

But all this heat from all the corners of the world, I am sad to say, has generated no light. The peace tunnel is ominously dark and gloomy. Thousands of bombed-out Palestinians in Gaza are homeless and still living in tents.

Wahington has declared through its State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley, that it is not contemplating financial or economic pressure against Israel in response to Mr. Netanyahu's intransigence. I suppose tanks, and missiles and white phosphorus bombs and other military weapons will continue to flow into Israel, and billions of American dollars will continue to fill Israeli coffers. Which raises an interesting question: Would Netanyahu change his settlement policy secure with the knowledge that President Obama wouldn't use military and economic sanctions against Israel? And if Netanyahu need not pay a price for his short-sighted policy, why would he change it and antagonize the settlers?

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

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