The EU is acting illegally by funding unauthorised Palestinian building in areas placed under Israeli control by international law, say an NGO, international lawyers and MEPs.
More than 400 EU-funded Palestinian homes have been erected in Area C of the West Bank, which was placed under Israeli jurisdiction during the Oslo Accords – a part of international law to which the EU is a signatory.
The Palestinian buildings, which have no permits, come at a cost of tens of millions of Euros in public money, a proportion of which comes from the British taxpayer.
This has raised concerns that the EU is using valuable resources to take sides in a foreign territorial dispute.
Official EU documentation reveals that the building project is intended to ‘pave the way for development and more authority of the PA over Area C (the Israeli area)’, which some experts say is an attempt to unilaterally affect facts on the ground.
Locally, the villages are known as the ‘EU Settlements’, and can be found in 17 locations around the West Bank.
They proudly fly the EU flag, and display hundreds of EU stickers and signs. Some also bear the logos of Oxfam and other NGOs, which have assisted in the projects.
Questions have also been asked about the conduct of EU workers in the region, after a picture emerged of a man in EU uniform threatening soldiers and bystanders with a rock outside a settlement in 2012. An EU spokesperson declined to comment on the picture.
The claims have been made by Regavim, a right-of-centre Israeli NGO which has closely been documenting the construction. Its findings are backed by senior international lawyers and two MEPs.If Oxfam says that "97% of Palestinian permit applications for building in the Occupied Palestinian Territory have been rejected by the Israeli Government" then that means that Oxfam does not consider Areas A and B to be "occupied," since Israel doesn't control building permits there - and there is plenty of building taking place in PA-controlled areas.
Maja Kocijancic, a Brussels-based EU spokesperson, denied that this was happening.
‘The EU's funding will provide training and expertise, to help the relevant Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministries to plan and build new infrastructure and enable people to reclaim and rebuild their land there,’ she said.
‘To date, no construction has started yet under these programmes. The EU is not funding illegal projects.'
When shown sequences of photographs showing construction taking place, she declined to comment. She also did not comment on an EU-Oxfam sign stating that the 'main activities' of construction work are 'rehabilitation and reclamation' of land.
However, her statement appeared to be contradicted by Shadi Othman, a spokesman for the EU in the West Bank and Gaza. Speaking on the telephone from the West Bank, he accepted that the construction was taking place.
'We support the Palestinian presence in Area C. Palestinian presence should not be limited Areas A and B. ...
An Oxfam spokesperson acknowledged that unauthorised construction was taking place, but said that it was justified on humanitarian grounds.
'In recent years, around 97 percent of Palestinian permit applications for building in the Occupied Palestinian Territory have been rejected by the Israeli Government.' he said.
'This means many Palestinian communities in Area C, which is under full Israeli Government control, are being prevented from building basic, essential structures such as homes and schools.
The Israeli politician Yariv Levine, Chairman of the House Parliamentary Committee in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, added:
'It is hypocritical of the EU to criticise Israeli construction while at the same time actively supporting and practically taking part in illegal Palestinian settlement construction on Israeli land.'
The largest of the alleged 'EU settlements' is Wadi Abu Hindi, which is about five miles away from Jerusalem. It is comprised of more than 100 houses, of which about 30 display EU signs.
Another, Khan Al Amar, is located one kilometre north of Highway One, which bisects the West Bank. It is comprised of about 50 houses, all of which displaying EU signs.
A third, Mak-Hul, in the northern West Bank near Nablus, is located on an Israeli military firing range. A fourth is Susia, in the south near Hebron.
Alan Baker, an international lawyer who took part in drafting the Oslo Accords in the Nineties, said that the EU’s actions were illegal.
‘The EU is a signatory to the Oslo Accords, so they cannot pick and choose when they recognise it,’ he said.
‘According to international law, all building in Area C must have permission from Israel, whether it is temporary or permanent.
‘The same principle applies anywhere in the world. If you want to build, you need planning permission.
‘The EU is ignoring international law and taking concrete steps to influence the facts on the ground.’
Professor Eugene Kontorovich, an international lawyer from the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, said: ‘There’s no question, the EU is openly in violation of international law.'
According to Mark English, a European Commission spokesman, Britain – which is the seventh-largest financial contributor to the EU –is likely to have 'full knowledge' of any Palestinian settlement project.