Meaningful action needed to stop Israeli settlement building, say UN experts

By agency reporter
August 10, 2019

UN human rights experts have said that the international community has a duty to stand by their collective promise to protect the rights of the Palestinian people, and to take decisive action to prevent Israel’s planned construction of a record number of housing units in its West Bank settlements.

In their comments, on 8 August 2019,  the experts referred to the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee meeting held this week, announcing the approval of around 2,400 housing units and public infrastructure in 21 settlements and outposts. These approvals are intended to formalise existing structures as well as provide initial permits.

“These settlement housing units are clearly meant to solidify the Israeli claim of sovereignty over the West Bank,” said Leilani Farha, the Special Rapporteur for the right to housing, and Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.

“Building civilian settlements in occupied territory is illegal, as is the annexation of territory. The international community has spoken out against the Israeli settlements, but it has not imposed effective consequences for the country’s defiance of international law.” 

The Israeli Government has already approved approximately 3,700 settlement housing units this year. The approval of a further 2,400 units will brings the total approvals for this year to 6,100. By comparison, the Israeli Government approved 5,600 housing units in all of 2018.

“Israel’s actions indicate it plans to remain permanently and advance a claim of sovereignty,” said the human rights experts. “The Israeli Prime Minister made this clear when he said recently that: ‘No settlement and no settlers will ever be uprooted.’ Should we not take him at his word that Israel has no intention of complying with international law?

“Criticism without consequences is hollow. The international community has a wide menu of commonly-used countermeasures to push recalcitrant states into compliance with their international duties. If the international community is serious about its support for Palestinian self-determination and its opposition to Israeli settlements then, surely, the time has come for meaningful action.”

Occupying powers are forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Convention from building civilian settlements in occupied territory. The Rome Statute has defined the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory, as a war crime. The United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 2334 (23 December 2016), stated that the Israeli settlements constitute “a flagrant violation under international law”.

The Israeli security cabinet also announced last week the approval of approximately 6,000 housing units for settlements, and 715 housing units for Palestinians living in Area C of the occupied West Bank.

The human rights experts noted that although the potential approval of housing units for Palestinians represents some progress, it by no means addresses the need. Between 2009 and 2016 there were more than 3,350 applications for permits with only 66 being approved. The experts expressed grave concern noting that the housing crisis and low rate of housing permit approval contributes to the coercive atmosphere facing Palestinians in Area C. Furthermore, the discriminatory approval of housing units, favouring Israelis and generally excluding Palestinians, would constitute a violation of articles 2.2 and 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by Israel on 3 October 1991.

The experts also noted the comments of Israeli cabinet ministers, who have stated that the Palestinian housing permits were issued in order to deflect international criticism of Israel’s policies of house demolition and record approval of new settlement housing units and to thwart the possibility of a Palestinian state.

* Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights


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