The four-fold increase in Israeli evictions of Palestinian families since the start of this year is finally prompting Foreign Office ministers to raise two more issues with the Israeli government.
First, they will urge Israeli authorities “to provide a legal route for Palestinians to obtain building permits”. At the moment Israel controls building permits in three quarters of the West Bank and refuses permits to Palestinians in over 99% of cases.
Second, they are considering an EU-wide approach on how to respond to the demolition and confiscation of buildings financed by the EU.
This was announced by Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood (below left) in a reply to a question from Labour MP Richard Burden (below right) belatedly published in a letter after the minister misheard his question in the Commons:
The UK position on demolitions is clear: demolitions cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians; damage chances of achieving a two-state solution; and are, in all but the most exceptional cases, contrary to international humanitarian law.
We are concerned by the large increase in the rate of demolitions, including of donor-funded structures, since the start of 2016. We regularly raise this issue with our Israeli counterparts, most recently on 13 April, and urge the Israeli authorities to provide a legal route for Palestinians to obtain building permits.
Within the EU we are also considering how to respond to the demolition and confiscation of EU-funded structures.
We will continue to provide practical assistance to Palestinians in Area C facing demolition or eviction through our support for Rabbis for Human Rights and the Norwegian Refugee Council legal aid programme. The NRC has successfully suspended demolitions and evictions so that Palestinians can remain in their homes in 97% of the cases they represent.
Disappointingly, the Minister goes no further than DfID minister Baroness Verma who announced in a written answer on March 2 that “the EU is proposing to reassess their position on seeking compensation from the Israeli Government”.
According to the UN, the Israelis had already demolished 120 donor-funded buildings by the beginning of March, more than in the whole of last year, and a good proportion of these must have been funded by the British taxpayer. MEPs have been urging the EU for years to demand compensation for the destruction of EU-funded buildings on the basis that presenting Israel with a bill for the damage would be far more effective than simply making ‘representations.
Providing the Palestinians with building permits would be a big step forward, but is unlikely to happen unless huge economic pressure is applied to the Israeli government.