By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel — A three-member panel comprised of U.N. Human Rights Council members urged private companies involved with constructing settlements in the West Bank to cease activities. The panel said that the practices are subject to prosecution as possible war crimes.

Christine Chanet, who led an investigative panel over Israeli settlements in the West Bank, said that the settlements contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

A report issued by the U.N. Human Rights Council last Thursday said that the expansion of settlements into Palestinian territory violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids the transfer of civilian populations into occupied territory. Violators are subject to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“Israel must cease settlement activities and provide adequate, prompt and effective remedy to the victims of violations of human rights,” said Christine Chanet, a French judge who headed the U.N. inquiry. “To transfer its own population into an occupied territory is prohibited because it is an obstacle to the exercise of the right to self-determination.” Chanet said that because Israel is a U.N. member state, it must comply with international law over the settlements.

U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon reiterated the report’s findings, saying that “all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law.”

Last December, Palestinians wrote a letter to the U.N. after Palestine was granted de facto U.N. recognition of statehood. In the letter, Palestinians accused Israel of planning to commit further war crimes by expanding settlements, and said that Israel had to be held accountable. With its statehood recognized, Palestine has threatened to take Israel to the ICC.

The U.N. Human Rights Council’s started its investigation of the settlement expansion last March. Independent U.N. investigators interviewed around 50 Palestinians in Jordan, which found that the settlements prevented Palestinians from reaching farming and water resources. The report states that the settlements are comprised of an estimated 520,000 settlers now living throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel did not cooperate with the council, and barred investigators from entering the West Bank, claiming that the council was biased. It defended its settlement policy by citing historic and biblical links to the West Bank.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry called the Human Rights Council’s recent report “counterproductive and unfortunate.” “The Human Rights Council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematical, one-sided and biased approach towards Israel. This latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of such approach,” the ministry said. “The only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the settlement issues, is through direct negotiations…” Israel’s Yigal Palmor said.

Palestinians welcomed the report, saying that it “vindicated their struggle against Israel.” “This is incredible. We are extremely heartened by this principled and candid assessment of Israeli violations,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official for the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

For further information, please see:

Jewish Press — Head of UN Rights Panel: Report is ‘Weapon’ Against Israel” — 3 February 2013

JTA — U.N.: Israel Must Withdraw From Settlements Immediately — 31 January 2013

Reuters — U.N. Rights Inquiry Says Israel Must Remove Settlers — 31 January 2013

The Telegraph — UN Report Says Israel Could be Prosecuted for War Crimes Over Settlements — 31 January 2013

Author: Ali Al-Bassam