Israeli ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem is getting increased attention – will the US & EU step up to stop it?

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Israeli home demolitions in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan have finally been getting increased attention in the US press. The map to the right (click to enlarge), from the Foundation for Middle East Peace, shows the strategic importance of the area. Silwan is located between the Old City of Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement Ma'ale Adumim. It is a strategically located Palestinian neighborhood that Israel has been settling as part of their plan to create a line of settlements across the West bank from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley. This stretch of settlements, which is referred to as the E-1 plan, would isolate Jerusalem and bisect the West Bank. Many people believe this would be the final nail in the two-state solution's coffin.  
Part of the Israeli plan to settle Silwan has been to force the Palestinians living there out of the area. The primary way Israel accomplishes this is through home demolitions. The organization the Israeli Coalition Against House Demolitions has recorded over 23,500 such demolitions throughout the occupied Palestinian territories since 1967. Silwan is just the latest example. 

The Israeli government attempts to give home demolitions the veneer of legality by claiming they're simply carried out against buildings that have been built, or added to, illegally. What is conveniently ignored is Israel's discriminatory practice of not providing services and legal permission for Palestinians to build. This lack of permission often leads Palestinians to "break the law" to perform regular maintenance on their home. 

The map to the left (click to enlarge) from the UN shows a close up of the Silwan area. You can see the areas that have already been taken under Israeli control through settlements and archaeological projects (shaded in red), and the area slated for demolition (outlined in yellow). Nearly 90 houses and 1,500 people are facing demolition in what Palestinian organizations are calling an ethnic cleansing campaign to clear the way for Israeli settlements. 

The US and EU are starting to take notice. The Guardian is reporting that a "confidential EU report accuses the Israeli government of using settlement expansion, house demolitions, discriminatory housing policies and the West Bank barrier as a way of "actively pursuing the illegal annexation" of East Jerusalem." The report recognizes how this effort is part of a plan to finalize Israeli control over the occupied territories. The Guardian continues, "Since the Annapolis peace talks began in late 2007, nearly 5,500 new settlement housing units have been submitted for public review, with 3,000 so far approved, the report says. There are now about 470,000 settlers in the occupied territories, including 190,000 in East Jerusalem. . . The goal, it says, is to "create territorial contiguity" between East Jerusalem settlements and the Old City and to "sever" East Jerusalem and its settlement blocks from the West Bank."

The report also offers an overview of the Israeli policies that are used to colonize the occupied territories:

The EU report goes further, saying that the demolitions are "illegal under international law, serve no obvious purpose, have severe humanitarian effects, and fuel bitterness and extremism." The EU raised its concern in a formal diplomatic representation on December 1, it says.

It notes that although Palestinians in the east represent 34% of the city's residents, only 5%-10% of the municipal budget is spent in their areas, leaving them with poor services and infrastructure.

Israel issues fewer than 200 permits a year for Palestinian homes and leaves only 12% of East Jerusalem available for Palestinian residential use. As a result many homes are built without Israeli permits. About 400 houses have been demolished since 2004 and a further 1,000 demolition orders have yet to be carried out, it said.

The US has engaged Israel on this issue as well. Hillary Clinton raised it on her recent visit when she said that the demolitions violated international agreements and were "unhelpful" in regards to the peace process. Ha'aretz is now reporting that the US has presented four official complaints to Israel since the Obama administration took over:

A senior government official in Jerusalem told Haaretz that the complaints represent a gradual increase in American pressure vis-a-vis settlement activity. "This is going to be one of the main issues that the Obama administration will be dealing with in the coming weeks and months," the official said. "It is not going to be easy to argue with them."

The four separate complaints relate to the demolition of Palestinian-owned homes in East Jerusalem, reports of Israeli plans to construct additional housing in the E1 area, between Maaleh Adumim and Jerusalem, the relocation of the illegal outpost at Migron to a new, as-yet unbuilt neighborhood of the Adam settlement and to plans to build thousands of new residential units in the settlement of Efrat.

The LA Times says, "the dispute is an early test for the Obama administration as it tries to foster peace in the region." It's already a step in the right direction that the Obama administration has raised the issue with Israel after eight years of infrequent criticism from the Bush administration (Rice did mention it at least once). But the question remains – will the US and EU add some bite to their bark? The incoming Likud government has noticed the change in the way the US is talking, but isn't concerned there will be a change in policy. It's up to Obama to prove them wrong. 

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