Friday, 7 October 2016

ISRAEL: The Legal Case of ''New Settlements''

Israel is currently ignoring criticism from the West, UN and US as it continues to pursue its settlement policies in the Palestinian Territories. It is also unlikely to reverse course anytime soon. Prospects for a two-state solution are getting dimmer.

Israel's decision to build new settlements far inside the West Bank weakens prospects for peace with the Palestinians, the European Union's diplomatic service said on Friday, echoing U.S. criticism that a two-state solution was at risk.

In a statement, the European Union External Action Service said Israel had broken with public statements not to build new settlements, calling the plans "effectively a new settlement in the northern West Bank." "The decision to continue settlement building and expansion... weakens rather than strengthens the prospects for a two-state solution to the Middle East peace process, and makes the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote," the EEAS said in a statement.

On Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the move was "deeply troubling" partly because it came after Israeli agreement with Washington on U.S. military aid designed to bolster Israel's security, he said. The United States has agreed to give Israel $38 billion in military aid over the next decade, the largest such package in U.S. history, under a landmark agreement signed on Sept. 15.

By quickly implementing this new settlement construction, Israel intends to create a situation that will be difficult to undo. Theoretically speaking, the Israel has always avowed its willingness to give up a portion of the settlements if the Palestinians would guarantee Israel's security in a peace treaty, but practically speaking, any hope of dismantling the large blocks of settlements on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah is unrealistic.
Numerous UN resolutions have stated that the building and existence of Israeli settlements in the West bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are a violation of international law, including UN Security Council resolutions in 1979 and 1980. UN Security Council Resolution 446 refers to the Fourth Geneva Convention as the applicable international legal instrument, and calls upon Israel to desist from transferring its own population into territories to change their demographic makeup.

The position of successive Israeli governments is that all authorized settlements are entirely legal and consistent with international law, despite Israel's armistice agreements having all being with high Contracting Parties. In practice, Israel does not accept that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies de jure, but has stated that on humanitarian issues it will govern itself de facto by its provisions, without specifying which these are.

Israel has justified its civilian settlements by stating that a temporary use of land and buildings for various purposes appears permissible under a plea of military necessity and that settlements fulfilled security needs.  It is further argued that UNSC resolution 242 calls for '' secure and recognized boundaries'', and that neither the 1946-1967 armistice demarcation lines, nor the 1967 cease-fire lines have proved themselves secure.

This argument seems to be legally acceptable because Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan but there are no peace treaties governing Israel's borders related to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Israel therefore can assert that the armistice lines, also known as the Green Line, of 1949 have no other legal status.

Under international law, Isreal could, within the framework of UNSC resolutions 446, 452, 465, 471 and 476, build settlements for military or agriculture purposes. However, even though, military and agriculture purposes might be in favor of Israel's establishment of civilian settlements, the establishment of the new settlement is inconsistent with international law and against Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Putting absolute primacy on one's own security, though, carries a dangerous seed of destruction and status quo within it. And perforating the West Bank with further new settlements to the point that a Palestinian state is no longer conceivable there -- that act serves to push off the oft-evoked two-state solution to an unattainably distant future.

But Netanyahu's government isn't thinking about the future. It only thinks about maintaining a status quo, and it continues to build settlements in the West Bank, in order to secure the settlers' votes. Israel is playing for time -- and that's a dangerous game.

Prof Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert

Photo Credit: AFP.