by Elliott Abrams
There were protests this week about some construction notices issued by the government of Israel. In tandem with the release of murderers from Israeli prisons -- something the United States has indefensibly pushed -- the Netanyahu government has sought to appease complaints within Israel by announcing new construction in settlements. Mind you, whether the construction will actually take place, or when, is unclear. The protests come nevertheless.
The New York Times reported that "Palestinian leaders threatened that any new settlement activity could lead them to seek membership and sue Israel in the International Criminal Court, a move they had promised not to take during peace talks that started this summer. European diplomats warned the Israelis in a series of high-level meetings over the past week against pairing the prisoner release with a construction announcement, as was done twice before."
The Jerusalem Post reported: "The European Union will strongly object to any new announcements of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, a senior EU diplomat told Channel 10. ... The unnamed diplomat said, 'There will be very little understanding from the European governments' if Israel plans to announce further construction beyond the Green Line next week following the release of a third group of Palestinian security prisoners. 'Israel needs expect a harsh reaction from the European governments if it intends to go in that direction,' the official said."
What makes these threats and protests noteworthy is the context. The Daily Star of Beirut reported this: "At least 15 Palestinians have died of hunger since September in a besieged refugee camp in the Syrian capital Damascus, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees told AFP on Monday. 'Reports have come in over the weekend that at least five Palestinian refugees in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmuk in Damascus have died because of malnutrition, bringing the total number of reported cases to 15,' U.N. Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness told AFP. He warned of a deteriorating situation in the camp, where some 20,000 Palestinians are trapped, with limited food and medical supplies."
No threats from the EU about this. No reports of a "harsh reaction." No "series of high level meetings." Israel announces plans for constructing homes and the threat to Palestinians gets the EU into high gear. In Syria, Palestinians starve to death and no one at "high levels" in Europe appears to notice.
This is not "new news," of course; it has long been obvious that most of the tears about the suffering of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are crocodile tears.
But the events this week certainly drive the point home. More attention is paid, more protests are lodged, when Israel issues a press release than when Syria starves Palestinians to death.
Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This piece is reprinted with permission and can be found on Abrams' blog "Pressure Points" here.
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