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The announcement that Israel will construct 3,000 new homes in settlements in Jerusalem and in the West Bank has been followed by the usual international outcry against it. Despite protests by leading industrialized nations Israel will probably build them as planned. Those that claim that Palestine recognition at the United Nations is a threat to peace will, again, miss the obvious point. The real threat to peace is the construction of illegal settlements in Palestinian land.
The location of these settlements is particularly relevant. It will make the two-state solution practically impossible to be achieved, since it would close off East Jerusalem from the West Bank. As UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement, “If implemented, these plans would alter the situation, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, increasingly difficult to achieve. They would undermine Israel’s international reputation and create doubts about its stated commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians.”
Settlement construction is controversial issue on which most nations, except Israel, agree: they are illegal under international law. On May 14, European Foreign Affairs Ministers stated, “The European Union expresses deep concern about the marked acceleration of settlement construction following the end of the 2012 moratorium, the recent decision of the government of Israel regarding the status of some settlement outposts as well as the proposal to relocate settlers from Migron within the occupied Palestinian territory…”
Last July, however, a report by an Israeli government appointed committee led by Retired Supreme Court Judge Edmond Levy recommended legalizing West Bank outposts and easing settlement restrictions. The committee claimed that settlements do not breach international law.
Several United Nations resolutions have stated that both the building and existence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are a violation of international law, particularly UN Security Council resolutions in 1979 and 1980. UN Security Council Resolution 446 refers to the Fourth Geneva Convention as the appropriate legal instrument. It calls upon Israel to desist from transferring its own population into the territories or changing their demographic makeup.
Although Israel maintains that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply to the territories occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War because of a lack of a legal sovereign of these territories, the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations General Assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice and High Contracting Parties to the Convention have all stated that the Fourth Geneva Convention does indeed apply.
In 2004, an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice determined that Israel had breached its obligations under international law by establishing settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. It also concluded that Israel cannot rely on a right of self-defense or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of imposing a régime which is contrary to international law. The Court also determined that the Israeli régime violates the basic human rights of Palestinians by impeding the liberty of movement of the inhabitants of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (with the exception of Israeli citizens) and their exercise of their right to work, to health, to education and to an adequate standard of living.
Furthermore, Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the International Criminal Court Rome Statute defines “the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” as a war crime. Although Israel initially signed the statute, it later declared its intention not to ratify it.
According to the UN, Israeli governments have built about 150 settlements in the West Bank –including East Jerusalem- since 1967. During that same period, more than 100 ‘outposts’ have been erected by the settlers without official authorization. Between 2002 and 2012, the Middle East Quartet, which includes the European Union, United Nations, United States and Russia, has made 39 joint statements calling on Israeli governments to halt the expansion of settlements. Yet, during that period, the number of settlers living in settlements has risen by more than one third – from approximately 377,000 to 500,000.
To pretend that Palestine incorporation into the United Nations is a threat to peace is to ignore these facts, that have caused so much damage to all those involved. This wrong assumption is a perverse use of language that makes a travesty of justice and basic human rights.
Dr. Cesar Chelala, MD, PhD, is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights.