Israel 'must end imputiny of violence by settlers'

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The Independent Online

EU governments, including Britain, have secretly been urged by their top diplomats in Jerusalem and the West Bank to press Israel to enforce laws against Jewish settlers responsible for an "alarming" rise in violence against Palestinians and their property.

A report sent to Brussels last month, which has been seen by The Independent, calls for an end to "the impunity" of acts that force Palestinians from their land near the settlements and increase the "opportunities" for settlers to expand. The report repeatedly stresses that settlements are illegal in international law and "threaten to make a two state solution impossible".

Citing recent UN figures showing that the number of settler attacks in 2011 had tripled to 411 in two years, the diplomats also highlight the fact that more than 90 per cent of complaints filed with the Israeli police by Palestinians – against sometimes armed attacks on people, mosques, agricultural land and livestock –go unpunished.

Last month's dispatch updates an also still confidential report produced by the EU's diplomatic heads of mission last year, which warned that Israel's failure to enforce the law risks "engendering more violence and jeopardises political dialogue". The earlier report also recommended that the EU put settlers with a record of violence or incitement on a travel "watch list" to prevent them entering member countries.

But while the updated report was endorsed by 21 out of 22 EU Consuls-General – ambassador-level representatives to the Palestinians who have offices in Jerusalem or Ramallah – attempts at unanimity have been undermined by the refusal of The Netherlands to sign the document.

The Dutch government is rapidly emerging as the most reluctant in Western Europe to criticise Israeli policy in the occupied West Bank. Close ties between The Hague and Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud government were further cemented by the Israeli Prime Minister's two-day visit to The Netherlands in January.

The updated report acknowledges that, thanks to an enhanced presence by the Israeli military, last year's olive harvest, which has traditionally seen a spike in settler attacks on Palestinians and their olive groves, was a "notable exception" to the general steep rise in settler violence. It adds that eight settlers were killed in three separate attacks in 2011, including one on a family in the Itamar settlement, for which two Palestinians were convicted. Three Palestinians were also killed by settlers in 2011.

But the earlier report warned that the Israeli military has limited authority to confront settlers attacking Palestinians, while by contrast they routinely intervene against Palestinians.