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Thank you Madam President.
I share the sense of urgency that has made you call for this debate. The demolition of this small Palestinian village would not only affect a local community, as one could think; it would also be a blow against the viability of the State of Palestine and against the very possibility of a two-state solution.
The Israeli High Court last week rejected the petitions by the residents of the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar and allowed the Israeli authorities to proceed with the plans for demolition within seven days. Any day now, the Israeli authorities could start demolishing this community and evict the residents from their homes, including tens of children.
This is why last week I called once again on the Israeli authorities to reconsider this decision. The demolition would have grave humanitarian consequences and it would be contrary to Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. The demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, together with plans for further settlement expansions in the same area, would also severely threaten the viability of the two-state solution. The village is located in the so-called ‘E1’ area, which is of strategic importance for preserving the contiguity of a future Palestinian state.
The European Union and its Member States have been crystal clear about their opposition to this demolition. The Foreign Affairs Council has systematically drawn attention to the plight of Bedouin communities in the West Bank and has repeatedly stated its strong opposition to Israel’s settlements policy. Such a policy is illegal under international law, including the demolitions of Palestinian communities and the possible forced transfers of population. These are positions we share completely, as demonstrated by the European Parliament’s resolution in May last year.
The EU and its Member States expressed their concerns about the imminent demolition through repeated statements, démarches and ministerial letters to the Israeli authorities, and the representatives of several Member States were present at the village on 5 July when the Israeli forces attempted to cordon it off.
Until now, these efforts have been to no avail. Israel claims that the community has been built without the required building permits. It is important to note, however, that it is virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain any building permits in Area C of the West Bank, as confirmed by the Quartet report we produced in July 2016.
We Europeans, together with our international partners, have worked intensively to speed up the approval of master plans in Area C, but again, with little success. Israeli authorities have advanced plans for thousands of new settlement units, including attempts to regularise buildings that have been built without any permit or planning for Israeli settlements. This is the situation on the ground: new settlements for Israelis are built, while Palestinian homes in the same area are demolished. This will only further entrench a one-state reality, with unequal rights for the two peoples, perpetual occupation and conflict.
The two-state solution is today under serious threat – more than ever before – and yet there is no realistic and viable alternative that would end the conflict and achieve a just and lasting peace. This is also mainly, I would say, in Israel’s interest.
This is why the European Union does not and will not give up on a negotiated two-state solution. We will continue our engagement on the ground in support of building a viable Palestinian state, in support of the essential work that UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] is doing, and in support of projects that keep the perspective of a two-state solution alive. Several Member States are involved in the funding of Khan al-Ahmar, in particular, the Tyre school. Thanks to their engagement, hundreds of Palestinian children have been able to go to school and receive quality education, and I am glad that the European Parliament is also asking the Israeli authorities not to implement the decision to demolish and not to strip an entire Palestinian community of their homes and their children of the school. Again, I stress this: this would not be in the interests of Israel itself.
Any irregularity issues in the community should be solved in dialogue with its residents and not through demolition and displacement. All energy and resources should go into seeking political solutions for achieving peace, not into creating more grievances, which will only perpetuate the conflict.
As I said, Khan al-Ahmar is located in the ‘E1’ area, which is essential for the future of a Palestinian state. It is essential for the prospect of the two-state solution, and so we will continue to raise our strong concerns about Israeli settlement activity, as well as the demolitions of Palestinian communities and livelihoods.
We have repeatedly expressed our strong opposition to Israel’s settlement policy and actions taken in this context, including the forced transfer of Bedouins. I would add that Israel, as the occupying power, has humanitarian obligations vis-à-vis the Palestinian population in Area C, which it must meet, starting with halting demolitions and confiscations, and returning confiscated equipment and structures.
We continue to call upon the Israeli authorities to reconsider their decision to demolish Khan al-Ahmar.