Palestinians seek EU help to stop settlement spread

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The Independent Online

In a marked shift of strategy, the foreign minister Nasser al Kidwa served notice that the Palestinian Authority was seeking a special meeting of the UN General Assembly to draw up ways of enforcing the International Court of Justice's declaration exactly a year ago that the barrier was unlawful.

The new moves, expected to be unveiled today, came as the Israeli Cabinet decided to accelerate completion of the barrier's encirclement of Jerusalem. The section round Jerusalem, which is now to be completed by September 1, will effectively cut it off from the West Bank and separate 55,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem from the city.

In an interview with the Independent, Mr al-Kidwa called on the EU to bar the import of goods produced in West Bank settlements, refuse visas to Israelis who live in settlements, and to consider barring companies like the US giant Caterpillar from operating in member states if it continues to provide the Israeli Army with bulldozers for use on the barrier and settlements in the West Bank.

Mr al-Kidwa, nephew of the late Yasser Arafat, and a fast-emerging force in Palestinian politics, denied that the sanctions and boycotts he envisaged were the same as those that had been imposed on South Africa's apartheid regime, in that they would be targeted specifically at Israel's presence in the occupied territories, declared illegal by the ICJ's advisory opinion last year. "We want to create a movement, not by boycotting Israel, but by taking positions against, and maybe even boycotting, part of Israel that is engaged in such illegal activities in violation of that advisory opinion, the Geneva Convention and successive UN Security Council Resolutions."

The EU has already insisted that goods produced in settlements should be labelled to ensure that they do not enjoy preferential tariffs applied to Israel. But Mr al Kidwa made it clear that he wanted this escalated into a total bar in which "you don't allow goods produced by settlers to get into your countries."

Pointing out that the ICJ opinion had conferred an obligation on all countries to hasten a halt to the Israeli activities in occupiedt erritories it deemed illegal he added: "You prevent companies and entities that are contributing to construction of the wall or the settlements from having any form of privileges in your countries, take actions against them. Start to put some teeth in the words that have been repeated over the years". This is not directed against Israelis as a whole. You are giving them a choice."

While decrying the "miserable failure" of the international community to take steps to enforce the ICJ ruling, Mr al-Kidwa also said the PA had "made a mistake" last year by not risking a US veto by seeking an immediate endorsement from the UN Security Council of the ICJ ruling and if unsuccessful to seek a General Assembly decision in favour of such sanctions.

He said diplomatic moves would be underpinned by internal legislative proposals seeking to ensure that Palestinians did not work for or provide services for settlers, and to ensure that settler-produced goods did not reach the Palestinian market. The agenda for a General Assembly session would be discussed with "others who believe that some good is coming out of Gaza disengagement and that we shouldn't rock the boat."

While welcoming the withdrawal of 8,000 settlers from Gaza this summer, Mr al-Kidwa said that it was unlikely that the ordinary life of Palestinians would be significantly different with Israel maintaining control of airspace, borders and territorial waters. He added: "Even if we are going to have a successful Gaza experience that should not mean we should allow Israel to continue with their colonization of Palestinian land in the West Bank, construction of the wall and settlement activities,joining [the settlement of] of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem."

Mr Al-Kidwa made it clear he still believed his uncle may have been poisoned, saying that the French medical authorities had been unable to diagnose his illness or cause of death, while saying that they had found no trace "of any poison known to us." He added: "If he was poisoned it doesn't take a genius to say it was the Israelis but it is a big 'if' and it would be irresponsible of me to talk as if it was a fact." He added that he believed the truth would come out "in the not too distant future."

Mr Al-Kidwa made it clear that the only terms on which Palestinians would accept the "so-called state with provisional borders" which his "hunch" is that Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister will offer after Gaza disengagement, would be if the UN simultaneously conferred full de jure recognition of and membership for Palestinian as a sovereign independent state broadly along 1949-67 borders.

The Minister defended his statement last month that Hamas would not be disarmed before the end of the occupation, while pointing out that the PA was still prepared to "dismantle terrorist infrastructure" as required under the Road Map by destroying tunnels and arms factories. He said the PA would seek to entrench a full ceasefire while enforcing the law to prevent display of weapons on the streets while maintaining the "right in principle" of the Palestinians to resist the occupation. "You go into homes to try to collect arms while the Israelis are living next door? That is not part of the Road Map."

Israeli ministers said at yesterday's Cabinet meeting they would address "daily life" issues for Palestinians by bussing school and university students through the new section of the barrier and drawing up procedures for sick people to reach medical services.

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