One scandal from the perspective of Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria – the disputed territory where 80 percent of biblical events unfolded – that rarely garners headlines is illegal construction carried out there by the European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN).
The Jerusalem Post reported in 2022 that the EU doled out half-a-billion dollars over the past seven years to support a Palestinian Authority (PA) plan to control Area C of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), according to a report from Israel’s Intelligence Ministry.
The Oslo Accords, which were signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993, carved the West Bank into three areas: A, B, C. The Accords placed areas A and B – the region that covers all Palestinian cities and central population centers – under administrative control of the PA, with shared Israeli-Palestinian security responsibilities. Former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat along with his lead negotiator at Oslo and current PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, accepted the divisions.
As a result of the Oslo Accords, military and civilian control over Area C was absorbed by the Israel Defense Forces. The ensuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been over Jewish settlements and a Jewish presence in the West Bank. In short, the Oslo Accords stipulated that Israel would have control over Area C. All of this helps to explain Israel’s outrage over the EU and UN working to build Palestinian entities in Area C.
Israel’s right-of-center government advocates that Area C, some 60 percent of Judea and Samaria, should remain within Israel’s future borders. The PA and the EU argue that the territory should be allocated for creation of a Palestinian Arab state. Nearly 500,000 Israelis and an estimated 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C.
The presence of Jews living in the biblical heartland evokes the usual reams of outraged newsprint, hours of intense television coverage and seemingly endless digital chatter. Most European media outlets and the EU have turned the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria into the be-all and end-all of crises in the Middle East.
The Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s mass murder of over 500,000 people in Syria – including through chemical warfare – seems to be at times relegated to a minor urgency when compared with Jews building homes in Judea and Samaria.
Comments such as those from the then-PLO envoy to Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat, who in 2011 advocated the cleansing of Jews from Judea and Samaria when he declared, “I think it will be in the best interests of the two people to be separated first,” garner scarce outrage.
Areikat answered a press query at the time about whether gays would be tolerated in a newly formed Palestinian nation by stating: “Ah, this is an issue that’s beyond my [authority].”
One thing that jolts many Israelis is the sanctimonious hypocrisy practiced by the scores of EU and UN politicians and bureaucrats who incessantly lambast Israel’s government for permitting Jews to live in Judea and Samaria. Yet the same EU and UN politicians and bureaucrats largely ignore grave Palestinian human rights violations and do their best to circumvent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations by building Palestinian infrastructure in the disputed region.
Illegal Building in Area C
Naomi Linder Kahn, the international spokesperson for the Israeli NGO (non-governmental organization) Regavim, told Fox News in 2020 that the UN has breached international law and the Oslo Accords by “pouring millions of dollars into projects that support the Palestinian Authority’s systematic program to unilaterally establish a state.”
Regavim, according to its website, is dedicated to the protection of Israel’s natural resources and supports Jewish life in Judea and Samaria. On Regavim’s homepage, one can find a detailed 20-page study on this illicit intervention as early as 2014 titled “Report on the Involvement of the European Union in Illegal Building.”
The NGO continues to exhaustively document EU and UN illegal construction in Area C. This writer has viewed Regavim’s photographic evidence of the illicit building activity.
A series of significant events over the last few months has exposed the United Nations’ and the European Union’s bureaucratic warfare against Israeli control in Judea and Samaria.
The UN General Assembly passed a resolution asking the “World Court,” known formally as the International Court of Justice, to weigh in on Israel’s “annexation” and the “legal status of the occupation.” The Palestinians promoted the resolution, which is titled “Israeli practices and settlement activities affecting the rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories” and urges The Hague-based ICJ to “render urgently an advisory opinion” on Israel’s “prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of Palestinian territory.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, tweeted at the time that “The Palestinians have rejected every peace initiative but instead of pushing them to change, the UN is helping them to harm the only vibrant democracy in the Middle East. Absurd.”
The Palestinians are following their old and failed pattern of trying to internationalize the conflict in UN and EU fora so as to bypass direct talks with Israel. The troika of the UN, EU, and the Palestinians is increasingly wedded to gutting the negotiation process the Palestinian side committed to with Israel at Oslo in favor of bad-faith bargaining and unilateral actions, argue Israeli critics.
The Knesset Responds
In late December, 40 members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, charged the European Union with working against the Jewish state, as evidenced by a leaked EU document showing how it seeks to illegally carve out territory for the creation of a Palestinian state.
According to the letter penned by the Israeli lawmakers:
We learned of an official policy document of the European Union, a document the gravity of which cannot be overstated, one that leaves no room for doubt as to the one-sidedness and animosity of the EU towards the State of Israel and the Jewish people. The document completely ignores our people’s historical affinity to our homeland, completely ignores the political agreements and the status of the State of Israel in Area C and seeks to establish the 1949 borders as Israel’s final-status permanent borders – in complete disregard of the Jewish communities in the area.
The Knesset letter is a remarkable breakthrough from the vantage point of Israelis, who seek greater resistance from Jerusalem against the EU unilateralism.
“We are gratified by the Knesset’s response. For too many years, the Israeli government did not respond to the blatant violations of Israel’s jurisdiction and international law,” Kahn said in December.
The members of the Knesset in their missive added that the EU document:
Exposes only the tip of the iceberg of the EU’s activities to undermine the State of Israel. We have not lost sight of your ongoing and continuous contribution, both direct and indirect, to campaigns designed to tarnish Israel’s name, from blood libels regarding alleged violence on the part of settlers, through unfounded accusations that Israel deliberately harms children, to specious comparisons of the policies of the government of the State of Israel to those of the Apartheid regime in South Africa of yesteryear.
The European Union has created an entire apparatus to sanction Jewish life in Judea and Samaria. In 2015, the EU infamously sent a directive to member states to single out Jewish products from Judea and Samaria for labeling.
The punitive measure applying a double standard to Israel was met with fierce opposition from Israeli politicians from the left and the right. Israel’s foreign ministry castigated the EU’s discriminatory policy, applied to Israel’s territorial dispute with the Palestinians “while ignoring 200 other territorial disputes around the world.” Jerusalem announced at the time that:
Israel condemns the decision of the European Union to label Israeli goods originating over the ’67 lines. We regret that the EU chose for political reasons to take an unusual and discriminatory step which is drawn from the realm of boycotts, just as Israel is facing a wave of terror directed at all citizens. The claim that this is a technical step is a cynical, baseless claim.
The normalization of the European BDS (boycott, divest and sanctions) measure has its origins in the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). In 2012, the NPD submitted a legislative initiative in the parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state seeking to punish Jewish products. The neo-Nazis’ motion called for Israeli products to be labeled and for a “clear designation of origin” to be implemented.
A mere five months later, in 2013, the mainstream German Green party, which currently controls the foreign ministry, introduced an initiative in the federal parliament (Bundestag) that largely mirrored the neo-Nazis’ legislation.
Kerstin Müller & Friends
One of the sponsors of the anti-Israel Green party labeling measure was Kerstin Müller, who has spent most of her political career bashing Israel in the Bundestag and in Tel Aviv when she ran the Israel office of her party’s Heinrich Böll Foundation. Müller’s pro-boycott Israel activity in 2013 prompted the usually skittish Berlin Jewish community to say she was acting in an “antisemitic way.”
Müller also worked zealously to pass a resolution in the Bundestag in 2010 condemning Israel’s interception of the Turkish-owned vessel the Mavi Marmara that sought to break Israel’s legal blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Unsurprisingly, given the largely anti-Israel initiatives of German foreign policy think tanks, Müller was rewarded with a position as an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the German Council of Foreign Relations. Her tireless hostility toward Jews in Judea and Samaria, Israeli self-defense measures, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would remain largely constant.
Müller’s apologists argue that her anti-Israel and alleged antisemitic activity took place a decade or more ago. However, her scapegoating of Jews remained steady. In 2021, she blamed “radical settlement organizations” for the violence in East Jerusalem while ignoring Palestinian terrorism and rocket attacks. She has a documented history of showing sympathy for the US- and EU-designated terrorist entity Hamas, demanding that Israel lift its blockade on the organization. She accused Israel of “war crimes” in its war of self-defense against Hamas in 2014 and declared that the genocidally antisemitic terrorist movement has “important demands.”
The Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor chronicled her efforts to help dislodge Netanyahu from power while she was working in Tel Aviv.
In 2021, she tweeted after his Likud party suffered an election defeat: “Bibi is out really good news from Israel!”
In 2022, Müller praised the achievements of the former German Green party leader Hans-Christian Ströbele, who had just died. Ströbele defended Saddam Hussein’s Scud missile attacks against Israel in 1991 as “the logical, nearly unavoidable consequences of Israel’s policies” in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Müller’s pro-Hamas and alleged antisemitic rhetoric would normally disqualify a person from a foreign policy role in mainstream discourse. Making matters worse for critics of Müller, the Berlin chapter of a pro-Israel organization, the European Leadership Network (ELNET), appointed her to the group’s advisory board. Carsten Ovens, the executive director of ELNET-Germany, has gone mum about Müller’s appointment.
A Feature Not a Bug
In terms of encouraging Palestinian recalcitrance at the negotiating table and the EU efforts to create facts on the ground to advance a Palestinian state, Müller’s posture is not a bug in the German and EU systems but rather a feature.
After all, Germany and other EU member states pump significant funds into Palestinian NGOs, including the Ramallah-based terrorist entity Al-Haq, and EU construction projects in Judea and Samaria. Israel’s government classified Al-Haq as a terrorist organization because it is linked to the terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Im Tirtzu, a grassroots Zionist organization, recently published blistering material on Germany’s interference in Israel’s democracy and civil society. Im Tirtzu Chairman Matan Peleg also outlined Germany’s meddling in his Hebrew-language book Country for Sale.
The German Foreign Ministry’s reported boycott of Im Tirtzu events sparked sharp criticism from newly-elected members of the Knesset. The Likud member and Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Amichai Chikli, told Arutz Sheva (Israel National News) in December:
The incessant involvement of the German government and agents on its behalf in internal political issues in Israel through various funds and even more so under the guise of ‘pro-Israel’ organizations such as the DIG [German-Israeli Association], which boycotts conservative Zionist organizations in Israel such as Im Tirtzu and its employees, crosses every possible line.
Likud Knesset member Ariel Kallner called for an investigation into the German foreign ministry’s anti-Zionist activities. He told The Jewish Press in January:
With friends like these, who needs enemies? The investigation of the Im Tirtzu movement reveals a very disturbing picture: The German-Israeli Friendship Association (DIG) under the leadership of Mr. [Volker] Beck is not a supporter of Israel at all, but is completely intertwined with the left-wing side in Israel and denies the legitimacy of right-wing Zionist positions such as support for the Jerusalem flag march. The exposé revealed by the Im Tirtzu movement on the German ‘price tag’ actions is that of a blood libel.
Beck, like Müller, is a former Green Party Bundestag deputy.
The complaints of Jewish residents in Judea and Samaria are being largely ignored. Advocates of a Jewish presence in the biblical heartland argue that the EU and the UN have created a cottage industry of politicians and bureaucrats in an effort to bypass Israel and establish a nascent Palestinian state.
The pressing question for many observers of the new Israeli government is, will Netanyahu block the EU and UN’s illegal construction and persuade the Palestinians to engage in negotiations with Israel?
Benjamin Weinthal is a Writing Fellow for the Middle East Forum. The views expressed are his own.