The illegality of Israeli settlements | By Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi


The illegality of Israeli settlements

ISRAEL has recently announced plans to build more 3000 residential units for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, drawing immediate condemnation from Palestinians, peace activists and neighbouring Jordan.

In the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel unjustly captured the remaining 22 per cent of historical Palestine — the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — Israel immediately began constructing Jewish only settlements in the newly occupied territories.

The fact remains that the UN has condemned settlements in the Occupied Palestinian territories in multiple resolutions and votes, declaring them to be illegal under international law.

More than 600,000 Jews live in 145 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

The Palestinians have called on the world to confront Israel over the “aggression” constituted by settlement construction on land they claim for a future independent state.

The announcement of tenders is one of the final steps before construction can commence. It green-lights bidding on contracts for hundreds of housing units in Ariel, Beit El and other Jewish settlements deep inside the West Bank.

Israel captured the territory in the 1967 War and the Palestinians want it to form the main part of their future state.

Moshe Hellinger, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University, told AFP that the right-wing factions in Bennett’s eight-party coalition “need to show their voters that they are defending their interests despite being in a coalition with the left.”

The new settlement homes are to be built in seven settlements, according to the statement from the Housing and Construction Ministry.

Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem has continued under every Israeli government since 1967.

The Palestinians say decades of settlement expansion have made it nearly impossible to establish a viable state alongside Israel, which is still seen internationally as the only realistic way to resolve the decades-old conflict. Most of the international community views the settlements as illegal.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is a right-winger close to the settlement movement, although he leads a coalition with centrists who seek to preserve stable relations with the United States.

Housing Minister Zeev Elkin, member of the right-wing New Hope party, favours the settlements project while sponsoring the Zionist vision” of strengthening Jewish presence in the West Bank. Unlike the former Trump’s regime in Washington, apparently the new Biden Administration has shown its prompt reservations over the current Israeli move.

The US State Department said it strongly opposed Israel’s plans for Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank as damaging for peace prospects between Israelis and Palestinians, which reflects administration’s harshest public criticism of Israeli settlement policy to date.

We are deeply concerned about the Israeli government’s plan to advance thousands of settlement units… Many of them deep in the West Bank,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told a briefing. ‘

’We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tension and to ensure calm, and it damages the prospects for a two-state solution,” he told reporters.

An Israeli planning committee gave its final approval for 1,800 housing units and preliminary approval for 1,344 others (Palestinians).

The Palestinians say that’s only a tiny fraction of the need since more than 2.5 million Palestinians live in the territory along with nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers.

Moreover, the establishment and expansion of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits the transfer of parts of the Occupying Power’s own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

The illegality of these settlements is repeatedly reaffirmed by the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, the UN top bodies and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The ever undying truth is that throughout the course of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories ushered in the post-1967 War, Israel has exploited to the hilt the very imbalance of power between the occupied and the occupier to create facts on the ground with the intention that they would lead to the retention of settlements and their associated infrastructure.

Actually, these settlements amount to illegal annexation of territory— the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, into isolated geographical units.

Whereas, the harsh and unwarranted practices of imposing restrictions on freedom of movement between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the illegal regime of closures imposed on the latter, the Israeli policies have bluntly undermined the meaningful exercise of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination by limiting the possibility of contiguous territory and the ability to freely dispose of natural resources, both of which are core to the effective fulfilment and enjoyment of such a fundamental right guaranteed under the UN Charter.

Arguably, the Israeli claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem has no substance. It has no basis in non-binding UN General Assembly Resolution 181 since the resolution never envisaged that Jerusalem would form part of the proposed Jewish State, but the establishment of a corpus separatum city under the UN supervision.

No Israeli argument that it acted in self-defence in 1948 and 1967 form the basis for such a claim.

And yet, whatsoever remains the Israeli expediency notwithstanding — if Israel withdraws toward the1949 armistice line unilaterally, or as part of a political settlement, many settlers will face one or more options: Remain in the territories (the disengagement from Gaza suggests this may not be possible); expulsion from their homes; or voluntary settlement in Israel (with financial compensation); there seems no warranted justification for the former and the present Israeli government to not follow the very conscience of international law which proclaims that neither by dint of force nor through the fabrication of facts, Israel cannot impose the right of ownership of the occupied Palestinian territories and lands that it occupied after the 1967 Israeli-Arab six-day war.

—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.

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