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Europeans have the post Israeli-election blues

Jerusalem is presently a city of many contradictions

Yossi Mekelberg

Published: Updated:

Jerusalem is presently a city of many contradictions. In some parts of the city there is something of a misleading relative tranquility. Most of its residents, Arabs and Jews, are going about their daily lives, resigned to living in a city full of paradoxes. A place holy to three monotheistic religions is divided more than ever since its unification under the Israeli occupation of its eastern parts 48 years ago.

However, outbursts of violence, mainly in the eastern parts, epitomize the danger of not resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole. The British newspaper the Guardian recently revealed that a leaked internal EU report alerted that the situation in Jerusalem “… reached a boiling point of ‘polarization and violence’ not seen since the end of the second intifada in 2005.” This should not come as a surprise to anyone. Events in the city during the last summer, including the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian boy, and the murder of five Jewish worshippers in a synagogue, only stressed that without a just resolution for all communities living in Jerusalem, the relative calm is only an illusion. Last week an incident occurred in which a Palestinian driver is suspected of deliberately running his car into a Jerusalem bus stop, killing one Israeli and injuring another. This episode had added to tensions, even before there was confirmation that there was an intention on the part of the driver to hurt Israelis.

Clashes

Clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli police became almost a daily occurrence for a while. The recent Israeli elections only exacerbated the rhetoric surrounding Jerusalem, as all the Zionist parties, albeit one, vowed to never divide the city again and maintain it as the capital of the Jewish state. Those making these pledges know that the only way to reach a peace agreement is by accepting that the city would become the independent capitals of both Israel and Palestine, and that the Palestinians of Jerusalem would cease to live under occupation.

The recent Israeli elections only exacerbated the rhetoric surrounding Jerusalem

Yossi Mekelberg

The EU report, prepared by the heads of the EU countries’ diplomatic missions represented in Jerusalem, makes three very clear observations which should be of great concern to most, but especially the Israeli government and its citizens. The first observation reflects on the sad reality that the violence in Jerusalem presents a serious threat to the viability of the two state solution, the other two clarify who should shoulder the blame and what course of action the EU should consequently take. There is apparently no doubt in the mind of those who wrote this document that the behavior of the Israeli government fuels tensions in the city. Through the expansion of settlements around and in Jerusalem, heavy-handed policing towards the Arab citizens of Jerusalem, forced evictions and home demolitions, Israel aggravates an already “polarizing and violent” situation.

Religious and nationalistic tensions

Evidently, the unresolved differences in Jerusalem and beyond create a breeding ground for extremists on both sides to exploit religious and nationalistic tensions to inflame the conflict. The conclusion reached by the European diplomats in Jerusalem should be of grave concern for Israel. They recommend to their superiors in Brussels to take firm actions against Israel to pressure it to alter its policies, a reflection of the severity with which they perceive the situation. Most of the recommendations are neither new, nor really surprising, since they have been floating around and toyed with in the corridors of power in the EU for years. It is a combination of economic measures from ensuring that all Israeli products originating from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinians territories are marked, to smart sanctions against known violent settlers which would prevent them from travelling to any of the EU countries. These suggested measures reflect a growing frustration among European diplomats and politicians that Israeli settlements policies, even though they clearly contravene international law, go unpunished. The new report suggests economic measures that are far milder than what the BDS movement demands, and as an initial step are far more realistic than inflicting an unchecked boycott divestment and sanctions on the Jewish state. By labelling Israeli products produced in the settlements and increasing awareness of the risks associated in investing and trading with the Israeli settlements, the EU puts the onus on its citizens to make the moral and practical judgment. One might argue that this is disingenuous of the EU, to leave such a decision up to individuals, instead of taking a direct action through the organization’s institutions.

It is far from guaranteed that these measures are going to be implemented, and if they are whether they could lead to the required results. In the EU’s irresolute decision making system, push-pull forces among the member states offset each other and end in indecision. However, for years the EU has declared that a “Resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is a strategic priority for Europe. Until this is achieved, there will be little chance of solving other problems in the Middle East.” More specifically the EU’s objective is to promote a two-state solution which would result in two independent, democratic and viable states living securely side-by-side. In order to achieve this, member states of the EU have donated many billions of euros and are part of the Quartet. Nevertheless, the EU has never adopted policies which would reinforce what it sees as crucial to its strategic interests. New European initiatives are the result of the current stalemate in the peace process, combined with the intensification of the construction of Israeli settlements. These developments increase the fear that the two state solution is fast fading as a viable solution, resulting in a heightened risk of widespread violence that seems to lead to a more proactive European policy. It might also coincide or even be coordinated with a new U.S. diplomatic initiative; one last attempt by the Obama administration to conclude a final status agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Officials close to the American president are more than happy to divulge the fact that intransigence on the part of Netanyahu’s government may convince Obama to refrain from exercising the U.S. veto power in the U.N. Security Council in case the Palestinian leadership asks for recognition as a state.

To an extent the democratic process of elections and forming a government allow Netanyahu some breathing time on the international front. In the months leading up to the Israeli elections the international community held back from any acts which might imply intervention in the democratic process. There was a hope that the Israeli elections would produce a government more conducive to a genuine peace process. This regrettably has not happened and the long and excruciating process of forming a new coalition leaves the international community waiting. Having said that, it seems that more than ever the international community is ready to exercise pressure on a new Israeli government led by the long-serving Netanyahu, who has proven to be one of the major obstacles on the road to peace. Is it a turning point in which Brussels and Washington reach a consensus to make Israel pay for its occupation of Palestinian territory, intransigent settlements policy and peace obstruction?

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Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.

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