Confidential EU report warns about ‘drastic acceleration’ of Israeli pressure on Jerusalem

European diplomats are asking union officials to ‘unequivocally’ show opposition to the Israeli government’s plans to alter the status and borders of the disputed city

Un miembro de la guardia fronteriza israelí increpa a un palestino, en Jerusalén, cerca de la puerta de Damasco
An Israeli border guard confronts a young Palestinian in Jerusalem, near the Damascus gate.AMMAR AWAD (REUTERS)
Antonio Pita

Brussels and the members of the European Union must “unequivocally” oppose the Israeli government’s plans and legal initiatives to unilaterally alter the status and borders of Jerusalem, where Israel has “drastically” accelerated pressure on the Palestinian population in the last year, according to a confidential report seen by EL PAÍS and delivered to the EU’s External Action service (EUAA) by the diplomatic representatives in East Jerusalem and Ramallah of nearly all of the EU’s member states, plus the EU delegate.

In their latest annual report on the disputed city, the European heads of mission to the Palestinian Authority (in East Jerusalem and Ramallah) warn that the events of 2022 “highlighted the growing fragility of the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, the exacerbation of the socioeconomic conditions of the Palestinians, and the need for their protection.” The report underscores their “separation from the political, social and economic life of the city,” the demolition of homes, the construction of new housing in settlements and the plans to create new ones in the eastern part of the city, which Israel seized in the 1967 Six-Day War and subsequently annexed.

The diplomatic representatives also highlight the “significant” increase in arrests and operations by the Israeli security forces, the “pressure on Palestinian institutions” such as schools; the erosion of the status quo in the Temple Mount, and the growing attacks on Christian holy places. These are “general trends” that have already been noted on previous occasions, says the report, but which intensified in 2022.

Despite all the noise generated by the return to power of Benjamin Netanyahu in a coalition with far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties, by the time his new executive took office on December 29, the previous government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid had already resulted in West Bank deaths and settlement construction at levels unseen in two decades.

There are around 340,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem, representing 38.5% of the city’s population, yet only 15% of the local budget is allocated to their neighborhoods. Only 45% are adequately and legally connected to the drinking water network, notes the report.

All except Budapest and Prague

The report sent to the EUAA is supported by 21 of the 23 member states with diplomatic representation in East Jerusalem or Ramallah. There are two exceptions: Hungary and the Czech Republic, who considered that the language of the text was too belligerent towards Israel, explained a European diplomatic source, noting that the governments of both countries have close bonds with Israel. In 2021 Prague opened a branch of its Tel Aviv embassy in Jerusalem, and every few months information resurfaces, from anonymous sources, that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is preparing to become the first EU country to move its embassy to Jerusalem.

The report insists on the importance that the location of the EU’s diplomatic missions should be consistent with United Nations Resolution 478, which condemned the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980 and the declaration of the city as the “unified” capital of Israel. This position has been of particular importance since 2017, when then-U.S. president Donald Trump recognized the city as the capital of Israel and transferred the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His successor, Joe Biden, has not reversed this important and symbolic measure, which the EU rejects because it considers, like much of the international community, that it is up to the parties to negotiate the status of the city at peace talks.

The report also underscores the danger of completing a ring of settlements that would isolate Jerusalem from the West Bank. It additionally warns about the use by Israeli authorities and settler groups of archaeology and tourism to “strengthen the Jewish and Biblical-inspired narrative about Jerusalem.” This is the case of the City of David, in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, at the foot of the walled citadel, which is in the hands of the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority but run by an ultra-nationalist foundation. Diplomatic representatives advocate raising this issue both bilaterally and in international forums while simultaneously supporting a Palestinian tourism strategy in the east of the city, where key religious and tourist monuments are located, such as the Temple Mount and the Holy Sepulchre.

The document also recalls that six Palestinians have lost their residence in Jerusalem by virtue of a legal amendment approved in 2018. The vast majority of residents in East Jerusalem have a permanent residence permit issued by Israel. That year, parliament gave the Interior Ministry the power to revoke it for individuals who have committed attacks, endangered public safety or “betrayed the State of Israel.” The latest person to have his residency revoked was the French-Palestinian human rights lawyer Salah Hamouri, who was deported to France last December.

Among the measures that should be “considered,” according to the report’s annex of recommendations, there are two related to border policy. One is to keep out “known violent settlers and those who call for acts of violence.” The other, to apply the principle of reciprocity when faced with “Israeli discriminatory practices with visas that restrict the freedom of movement of EU citizens.”

The silent death of judicial reform

Demonstration against judicial reform and the Netanyahu government, on Sunday in Tel Aviv.
Demonstration against judicial reform and the Netanyahu government, on Sunday in Tel Aviv.Ronen Zvulun (REUTERS)

Four ministers from Likud, the party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have admitted to the daily Yediot Aharonot that the controversial judicial reform is virtually “dead.”

Pressured by recurring demonstrations, messages from Washington and the growing protest within the Armed Forces, Netanyahu announced in March that negotiations for the reform would be postponed to the current period of parliamentary sessions, which ends in July. The government and the opposition have since then been negotiating a consensus text. According to his ministers, Netanyahu is letting time pass and has no intention of making it a reality, finding himself stuck between the force of the demonstrations on one side and, on the other, Justice Minister Yariv Levin and the far right, who are pressing for the reform to go ahead.

“As far as he is concerned, negotiations could go on forever,” one minister said ironically. As a result of the news story, the head of government said on Monday at an internal party meeting that he believes in continuing to negotiate, and that the initiative "is not dead.”

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