U.N. Panel Says Israeli Settlement Policy Violates LawBy NICK CUMMING-BRUCE and ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: January 31, 2013Israel
has pursued a creeping annexation of the Palestinian
territories through the creation of Jewish settlements and committed multiple violations of international law, possibly including war crimes, a United Nations panel said Thursday, calling for an immediate halt to all settlement activity and the withdrawal of all settlers.
Presenting their findings in Geneva after a nearly six-month inquiry for the United Nations Human Rights Council, a panel of three judges, led by Christine Chanet of France, presented its view that Israel’s settlements violated the Geneva Conventions
, which prohibit a state from transferring its own civilian population into territory it has occupied.
Asked if Israel’s actions constituted war crimes, Ms. Chanet replied that its offenses fell under Article 8 of the International Criminal Court statute. “Article 8 of the I.C.C. statute is the chapter of war crimes,” she said at a news conference. “That is the answer.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry quickly dismissed the report
as “counterproductive and unfortunate” and said it provided a reminder of the Human Rights Council’s “systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel.”
Israel and the United States view the Human Rights Council, which answers to some nondemocratic member states, including Saudi Arabia, China and Cuba, that are themselves often scrutinized for human rights violations, as eager to shine a harsh spotlight on Israeli practices even though it overlooks egregious rights problems elsewhere. Israel has had repeated conflicts with the body and declined to cooperate with the panel’s fact-finding inquiry.
Israel “must cease all settlement activities without preconditions” and start withdrawing all settlers from the occupied territories, the judges said in their report, scheduled to be debated in the rights council in March.
The panel drew on 67 submissions from a cross section of academics, diplomats, Israeli civilian organizations and Palestinians, Ms. Chanet said. Because Israel decided not to cooperate with the investigators, they were unable to visit the West Bank and went instead to the Jordanian capital, Amman, to take testimony.
The council’s decision last March
to investigate the effect of Jewish settlements on Palestinian rights prompted Israel to break off cooperation with the council, castigating it as a political platform used “to bash and demonize Israel.” The panel’s report came two days after Israel boycotted a council review
of its human rights, becoming the first country to withhold cooperation from a process in which all 193 United Nations member states have previously engaged.
The United States has condemned Israel’s settlement policy as unhelpful and an obstacle to achieving a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue, but it also opposed the creation of the fact-finding mission, saying at the time that it was an example of the council’s bias against Israel, that it did not “advance the cause of peace” and that it would “distract the parties from efforts to resolve the issues that divide them.”
The panel noted that Israel had established about 250 Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967, with a combined population now estimated at 520,000. It said the settler population was growing much faster than the population of Israel outside the settlements.
The report quotes the Israeli finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, as saying in November that the government had doubled the budget for West Bank settlements “in a low-key way because we didn’t want parties in Israel or abroad to thwart the move.”
These actions fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, the panel said, and if a future Palestinian state ratified the Rome Statute, which created the court, Israel could be called to account for “gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law.”
The report was welcomed by Palestinian officials and some settlement opponents in Israel. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement that the report documented “illegal Israeli practices without any ambiguity.”
Israeli officials, on the other hand, dismissed the report, saying that the only way to resolve the settlement issue was through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without preconditions.
Yigal Palmor, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that the council “systematically gives Israel a raw deal” and that the report’s conclusions were predictable. Defending Israel’s decision not to cooperate with the fact-finding mission, Mr. Palmor said, “If the cards are marked, are we expected to play anyway?”
He criticized the report for mentioning Israel’s unilateral evacuation of 21 settlements in Gaza and 4 in the northern West Bank in 2005 “in passing in a few lines, as an insignificant detail, although it was a very major event for Israel.”
“It adds insult to injury,” he said.
The report did not explicitly call for an economic boycott of the settlements or sanctions against Israel, but Israel said its authors deliberately used language that could serve groups calling for such measures.
Frances Raday, an Israeli law professor and a human rights advocate, told Israeli television that the report “gives unusual encouragement to attempts that already exist to boycott settlements and Israeli institutions and Israel as a state because of the settlements.”
According to the report, Palestinians’ rights to freedom of movement and expression and their access to places of worship, education, water, housing and natural resources “are being violated consistently.”
The settlements are maintained through “a system of total segregation” between the settlers, who enjoy a preferential legal status, and the rest of the population, the report concludes. The settlements have resulted in the creation of legal zones in which settlers are subject to Israeli laws but Palestinians come under a patchwork of military orders and laws dating back to Ottoman and British rule, the report says.
In July, an Israeli government-appointed commission of legal experts published a report saying Israel’s presence in the West Bank was not occupation and recommending that the state approve scores of unauthorized Jewish settlement outposts there.
The three-member commission, led by Edmund Levy, a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice, confirmed a position long held by Israel: that the territories are not occupied, since Jordan’s previous hold over them was never internationally recognized, and that their fate must be determined in negotiations. Still, fearing international censure, among other things, Israel’s government has not formally adopted the commission’s conclusions.
Edited by The Watcher, 01 February 2013 - 03:25 AM.