Israel continues to violate Palestinian human rights

says Salam Fayyad


Salam Fayyad is usually referred to as the Palestinian Prime Minister.  He isn’t.  He was appointed as Prime Minister by President Mahmoud Abbas, but the Government he put together never sought, nor received, the endorsement of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) as required by the Palestinian constitution.  (For a full account of this, see my article Democracy in Palestine, American style [1]).


Salam Fayyad’s popularity in Washington was his main qualification for his appointment by President Abbas.  An economist who lived in the United States for twenty years, he was an official of the World Bank from 1987-95 and later the IMF representative to Palestine until 2001, when the US forced Yasser Arafat to accept him as Finance Minister (to root out the alleged corruption in the Palestinian Authority).


He served in this post until the Fatah Government resigned after their defeat by Hamas in the January 2006 elections.  He was elected to the PLC in those elections as the leader of the Third Way party, which received 2.4% of the “national list” vote and got 2 seats on the PLC (out of 132).  By contrast, Hamas, which headed the previous National Unity Government, got 44.5% of the “national list” vote and won 74 seats overall.


Salam Fayyad writes a letter

Going on past experience, Salam Fayyad was unlikely to give Israel any bother.  That was why the US was so keen on him.  But, on 27 May 2008, he did a terrible thing: he wrote a letter to leading political figures in the EU in which he dared to say that:


Israel continues to systematically violate Palestinian human rights and flaunt its international obligations.


Not only that, he gave chapter and verse of Israel’s recent misdeeds in a manner that regrettably Palestinian leaders rarely do.  The full text of the letter is available at [2].


He sent this detailed indictment of Israel to the Prime Minister of each of the 27 Member States of the EU, to José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, to Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, to Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the Commissioner for External Relations, and to Hans-Gert Pöttering, the President of the European Parliament.


His objective was to persuade the EU not to upgrade its relationship with Israel under the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) [3], which was to be discussed at an EU-Israel meeting on 16 June 2008.  It was discussed and a decision was taken to upgrade the relationship (see my article EU-Israel relations “upgraded” [4])


(The ENP is additional to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership [5], under which Israel has an Association Agreement [6], aka the Euro-Med Agreement, granting it privileged access to the EU market since 2000.)


Shared values?

Salam Fayyad’s letter to the EU began:


It has come to my attention that the European Union is contemplating upgrading its relationship with Israel, including in the political and economic spheres, and that the Council may take a decision on this matter in its June 16th meeting.


“I am writing you to register my deep reservations concerning such an upgrade while Israel continues to systematically violate Palestinian human rights and flaunt its international obligations, including certain of its commitments to the EU.”


He continued:


“Our understanding is that one of the principal rationales for the EU to extend political and economic co-operation to neighbouring third states under the European Neighbourhood Policy is to generate incentives for those third states to respect EU values, central among them human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Yet, what we fear may happen in the case of Israel is a decoupling of the incentive (ie economic integration) from the desired behaviour (ie respect for human rights).”


In other words, according to Fayyad, the ENP is meant to encourage neighbouring states to respect “EU values” by tailoring the EU’s relationship with a state according to its respect for “EU values” – which is what it says on the ENP website:


“The EU offers our neighbours a privileged relationship, building upon a mutual commitment to common values (democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development). The ENP goes beyond existing relationships to offer a deeper political relationship and economic integration. The level of ambition of the relationship will depend on the extent to which these values are shared [my emphasis].” [3]


Obviously, the EU doesn’t take this seriously, otherwise it would never have considered granting Israel a privileged relationship in the first place.  If the EU did take this seriously, Israel would be debarred because of its discrimination against Arab Israelis, never mind its behaviour in the Occupied Territories since 1967, during which it has displayed a thoroughgoing contempt for international humanitarian law, violated umpteen Security Council resolutions and regularly failed to honour agreements it has entered into.


Israel’s recent misdeeds

In his letter, Salam Fayyad proceeded to outline some of Israel’s recent misdeeds:


“In the months since [the] Annapolis [conference in November 2007], we have continued to see a flagrant disregard on the part of Israel for Palestinian national and individual rights, in violation of international law and the Road Map.


First, on settlement building:


“Construction has continued in at least 101 settlements (not including Jerusalem-area settlements). Similarly, Israeli authorities have issued tenders for 847 new housing units since Annapolis, as compared with 138 housing units tendered in the 11 months prior to Annapolis.”


He might have added that all settlement building in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is in breach of international humanitarian law, specifically, of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention [7], which states that:


“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”


The Security Council has stated many times that the West Bank and Gaza are “occupied territories” within the meaning of the Convention (and this was confirmed by the International Court of Justice when it declared Israel’s construction of the Wall illegal in July 2004), so Article 49 of the Convention is applicable to Israel’s settlement building.  On these grounds, beginning in March 1979, the Security Council has demanded (in resolutions 446, 452 and 465) that Israel cease settlement building and remove its existing settlements.  Israel has been in breach of these resolutions for nearly 30 years.


Destruction of property

Second, on the destruction of Palestinian property, Salam Fayyad writes:


“Meanwhile, Israeli authorities demolished at least 185 Palestinian structures, including 85 residential structures, in the first four months after Annapolis.”


Destruction of property by the Occupying Power is also prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention, specifically, by Article 53, which states:


“Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”


West Bank barriers

Third, on barriers to movement on the West Bank, Salam Fayyad writes:


“The number of checkpoints, roadblocks and other physical barriers to movement now exceeds 600.”


In the Agreement on Movement and Access signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in November 2005, Israel undertook:


“Consistent with Israel’s security needs, to facilitate movement of people and goods within the West Bank and to minimize disruption to Palestinian lives, the ongoing work between Israel and the U.S. to establish an agreed list of obstacles to movement and develop a plan to reduce them to the maximum extent possible will be accelerated so that the work can be completed by December 31 [2005].” [8]


In August 2005, there were fewer than 400 checkpoints.  Today, as Salam Fayyad says, there are more than 600.


The Wall

Fourth, on the construction of the Wall, Salam Fayyad writes:


 “And, of course, Israel has yet to comply with the 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice, which held that the settlements and the Wall that are built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) are illegal, and which requires Israel to stop constructing the Wall, remove those parts already built and provide reparations.”


Here are the unambiguous decisions of the Court:


“A. The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law;


“B. Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated, and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto, in accordance with paragraph 151 of this Opinion;


“C. Israel is under an obligation to make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem;” [9]


Association Agreements breached

The Palestinian Authority has some kind of interim Association Agreement [10] supposedly giving it privileged access to the EU market.  The difficulty is that goods for export to the EU from the Occupied Territories have to pass through Israel.  In his letter, Salam Fayyad complains bitterly about Israel hampering this process, saying:


“… despite its obligations under the Barcelona Process, Israel continues, through a myriad of restrictions, to hamper implementation of the Interim Association Agreement concluded between the EU and the PLO on behalf of the PA.”


He also complains about Israel breaching its own Association Agreement with the EU by passing off goods from settlements in the Occupied Territories as if they come from Israel:


“Moreover, Israel continues to breach its own Association Agreement and EU directives regarding settlement products by allowing these products to be exported to the EU as if they were manufactured and/or wholly obtained in Israel and to refund settlement businesses (through illegal subsidies) for any import taxes paid by these businesses in their export to the EU.”


Rewarding unlawful behaviour

In the light of these numerous transgressions by Israel, Salam Fayyad makes the very reasonable point:


“If the EU were to upgrade its relationship with Israel at this juncture, in view of Israel’s systematic breach of legal obligations and agreements, Palestinians could only view it as rewarding unlawful behaviour – and Israel could only interpret it to mean that such behaviour and EU calls to stop it, have no consequences. Furthermore, the EU would be depriving itself of an important tool to push the peace process in the right direction, and jeopardizing its ability to play the active political role this region needs and that we, Palestinians, expect and support.


“Now is the time for the EU to convey to its friend, Israel, that the key to strengthening its ties with the EU is to demonstrate, by way of action, that it indeed shares and embraces the goals and values of Europeans.


“Now is the time for the EU to demonstrate to its Palestinian friends and other friends in the region the seriousness with which it views the principled position it has taken in the peace process.


“Now – more than ever – is the time for the EU to act on the principled position that it reaffirmed again today that Israeli settlement activity “anywhere in the [OPT], including East Jerusalem, is illegal” and “threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution”.


(The EU General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 26/27 May 2008 did indeed restate the EU position that all settlements are illegal under international law:


“The EU is deeply concerned by recent accelerated settlement expansion. The EU reiterates that settlement building anywhere in the occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law. Settlement activity prejudges the outcome of final status negotiations and threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution. It reiterates its call on Israel to freeze all settlement activity including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001.” [11]


The latter merely repeats the demands on settlements set out in the Roadmap and ignored by Israel ever since.  It doesn’t demand that all settlements be removed, despite describing them as “illegal under international law”.  Remember the Roadmap first saw the light of day on 30 April 2003 and was supposed to point the way to a final solution by the end of 2005.)


Fayyad ends his letter with the following plea:


“Therefore, I strongly urge the EU to decide against the upgrade of its relations with Israel until such time as Israel abides by international and human rights laws, including by freezing all settlement activity, and allows the Palestinian people to enjoy the same neighbourly relations with the EU as other nations in the region.”


Letter to the OECD

Israel’s relationship with the EU isn’t Salam Fayyad’s only target.  Earlier, he sent a letter to the Organisation for European Co-operation and Development (OECD) [12], which Israel is seeking to join.  The OECD has 30 member states, mostly European, but the US, Canada, Japan and Australia are also members.


In May 2007, OECD countries agreed to invite Israel (and Chile, Estonia, Russia and Slovenia) to open discussions with a view to membership.  In December 2007, a “roadmap” towards membership was agreed with Israel [13] and accession talks began.


Section I of this “roadmap”, entitled Fundamental values and like-mindedness, states:


“The Council reaffirms that OECD Membership is committed to fundamental values, which candidate countries are expected to share. These fundamental values serve as the foundation of the likemindedness of OECD Members and have been expressed in various OECD Ministerial Communiqués.


“Accepting these values, along with the established body of OECD instruments, standards and benchmarks, is a requirement for membership [my emphasis].”


And what are these fundamental values?  The “roadmap” says that they include


“a commitment to pluralist democracy based on the rule of law and the respect of human rights, adherence to open and transparent market economy principles and a shared goal of sustainable development”.


According to the Jerusalem Post (4 June 2008) [14], Fayyad’s letter points out that “Israel is in breach of various requirements of the United Nations and other bodies concerning its treatment of the Palestinian population” and suggests that it isn’t fit to join.  The letter has been passed on to OECD member states.  It remains to be seen if this has any impact on Israel’s application for membership.


Israeli reaction

Israel reacted to Salam Fayyad sending these letters to the EU and OECD by delaying the handover of tax revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.  As a result, in early June some 150,000 Palestinians employed by the Palestinian Authority had to wait for several days for their wages.


Israel collects this revenue under the Paris Economic Protocols it signed in 1994, as an economic appendix to the Oslo Agreement.   So, holding on to this revenue, which Israel did while the Palestinian Authority was under Hamas control from February 2006 until June 2007, amounts to theft.


This is yet another example of Israel’s contemptuous attitude towards international legal agreements.  In this case, it was prepared to break its obligations under the Paris Protocols in order to mete out punishment to Palestinians, because Salam Fayyad dared to express an opinion of which it disapproved.


Egyptian complicity

Egypt tries to thwart Israel’s plans in Europe was the heading on an article in Haaretz on 3 June 2008 [15].  This implied that Salam Fayyad was working in concert with Egypt to thwart Israel’s ambition to upgrade its relations with in the EU.  According to the article:


“… Cairo had instructed its ambassadors in Europe to wage a diplomatic campaign against the agreement.  As part of this campaign, Egyptian ambassadors in London, Paris, Brussels, Spain, Rome and other European capitals have met with high-level Foreign Ministry officials in their respective countries to ask them to reconsider the agreement. The Egyptian argument is that in light of Israel’s ongoing construction in West Bank settlements and its blockade of Gaza, the EU must not reward Jerusalem in any way.”


Why is Egypt doing this?  According to the article:


“…  the Egyptian campaign constitutes retaliation for a United States Congress decision to freeze up to $200 million in American military aid to Egypt. Cairo blames Israel for this freeze, because Israel has frequently complained to Washington about Egypt’s failure to combat arms smuggling into Gaza. One of the conditions Congress set for unfreezing the aid was an improvement in Egypt’s performance in this sphere.


“In addition, Israeli officials said, Cairo is upset because the EU has refused to grant Egypt a similarly favorable agreement.”


At present, there are signs that relations between Fatah and Hamas are thawing.  And Egypt is involved in this too.  In early June, President Abbas called for a “national dialogue” and Egypt is to host a reconciliation meeting between Fatah and Hamas shortly.  The US and Israel must be a little bit concerned that their successful negation of the outcome of the January 2006 election may yet be reversed and the Hamas-led National Unity Government reinstated.


It cannot be a coincidence that Salam Fayyad chose this moment to write a letter to the EU saying “Israel continues to systematically violate Palestinian human rights and flaunt its international obligations”, a letter he knew would anger both Israel and the US.



David Morrison

23 June 2008