BRUSSELS, 7 September — Israel’s illegal settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory directly ran counter to its stated objective to realize a two-State solution, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message to the International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, which opened here today.
“The continuing policy of settlement expansion and the climate of impunity relating to settler activity are a root cause of the escalating violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” he said in a message delivered on his behalf by Rima Khalaf, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.
Under the theme of “Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace — possible ways forward”, the two-day conference was convened by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in cooperation with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the League of Arab States. It aimed at discussing, among others, the impact and legality of settlements, the role of the international community and regional organizations, European Union guidelines on import and labelling of goods produced in settlements, and action by parliamentarians, civil society and local authorities.
Mr. Ban said the situation on the ground continued to be worrisome. One year since last summer’s ruinous Gaza conflict, security and hope in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza “remain at a low point”. Confidence must be restored by both peoples for a peaceful settlement and, at last, the realization of two States for two peoples. It was also clear that unilateral actions, such as building illegal settlements, ran counter to the realization of such purpose and could not be reconciled with Israel’s stated intention to pursue a two-State solution.
He also voiced concern over the new levels of settler violence against Palestinian civilians. Although there were indications that the Israeli Government had stepped up efforts to address that danger and hold perpetrators accountable, it must do all it could to live up to its obligations, especially the protection of all civilians, including those under its occupation.
Condemning the recent rocket launches from Gaza towards Israel and violence against Israelis in the West Bank, Mr. Ban urged leaders on all sides to prevent such acts and not to allow extremists to escalate the situation and take control of the political agenda. The Secretary-General pledged to work with all parties to foster a return to peace talks, which must address the settlement issue under a final status accord. The Quartet — comprising the United Nations, the Russian Federation, the United States and the European Union — and the League of Arab States, the OIC and all regional and international stakeholders must play a more active, supportive role.
In his keynote address, Riad Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine, said that some 250 illegal settlements existed today in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, housing at least 600,000 Israeli-Jewish settlers in more than half of the Palestine territory. “Let’s be clear,” he said, stressing that the settlement issue was neither about real estate nor about “construction of housing units”. For every act of settlement construction and expansion, Israel destroyed Palestinian property and livelihood and unravelled the social fabric and diminished the most essential element of the Palestinian personality — hope.
Those illegal measures were neither temporary nor justified under international law, he stressed. They were designed to achieve a strategic and devastating goal: unlawfully appropriating property from the Palestinian people, driving them off their land and creating a new demographic reality on the ground. Those acts constituted the most brutal enterprise of ethnic cleansing. The classification of Israeli settlement regime as criminal was not a matter of opinion, but a clearly established fact in international humanitarian and criminal law. Settlement activity was a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the maintenance of that regime involved the commission of crimes under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
Yet, he said, Israel had continued to commit those crimes for almost half a century without facing accountability. Impunity was the reason why today’s discussions centred on the problem of settlements, rather than on the prospects of peace and prosperity in the context of the two-State solution. That reality of impunity and practical disdain for international law and Palestinian rights had transformed the settlement regime into “a hotbed of racism, terrorism and violence”. Asking about what was the way forward, he said the answer was simple and clear: combat the illegal regime and take practical steps to end it, including through boycotting. If not confronted by the international community, the settlement regime would undermine the realization of the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights, particularly their rights to self-determination and statehood.
The European Union’s labelling of products from Israeli settlements was a positive, yet long overdue, initial step but nowhere near enough, he said. Israel must be made to understand that it could not continue to make a profit off the oppression of the Palestinian people and the illegal exploitation of their natural resources. The Security Council had a principal duty to end that insidious occupation. Palestine had been acting at every level to confront the settlement regime, including at the International Criminal Court. It also urged all States to discharge a collective and individual responsibility to ensure accountability if Israel continued to refuse compliance with its legal obligations, including under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice.
In order to preserve the two-State solution based on the 1967 borders, effective and urgent measures must be implemented to confront those illegal actions, including settlement activities and terrorist attacks by settler groups, he said. A practical step in that regard would be the recognition of Palestinian statehood without delay. Palestinians’ struggle for justice and freedom was supported by an increasing majority of the international public. “We will continue to persevere — deeply rooted in our homeland — determined to plant where the occupation uproots and build where it demolishes,” he said, expressing Palestinians’ determination to hold onto their faith that “the future is for justice and freedom” and that “the evils of oppression cannot outlast a free people’s will to overcome injustice”.
Also delivering statements were representatives of the conference organizers. Fodé Seck (Senegal), Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee, noted that from the standpoints of the international community and of international law, Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory were clearly illegal. On that issue, the Security Council had spoken with a single voice by unanimously passing resolution 465 (1980), which affirmed that “measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity” and that “Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention”.
He said the Council had further declared that Israeli settlements “constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East” and called upon all States “not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with settlements in the occupied territories”. Subsequent resolutions, by both the Council and the General Assembly, had reaffirmed that clear position, as had the International Court of Justice. Yet today, Israeli settlements were growing and their expansion was the declared goal of Israeli ministers and officials. Settlement activities were an intrinsic aspect of an unequal power relationship and of a system of occupation and domination of one people over another.
The international community had an important role to play not only in the search for a just and durable final status, but also in advocating for the rights of the Palestinian people and for upholding international law in the interim, he said. In that regard, he welcomed recent efforts of the European Union to strengthen its policies regarding Israeli settlements and any commercial products originating from them.
Samir Bakr Diab, Assistant Secretary-General for Palestine Affairs of the OIC, noted that Israel was doing everything to bring down Palestine despite the international community’s serious efforts to achieve a peaceful solution. Israeli settlers numbered 600,000 today and their settlements fragmented Palestinian land and communities, thus “Judaizing” Jerusalem. Those activities, including measures to break unity, transform the demographic character and exploit natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, were clear violations of international law. Settlers were given a free rein to destroy Palestinian houses and property and attack their churches and mosques, he said, adding that the mother of the 18-month-old toddler who had recently been killed in an arson attack had died today.
Mr. Diab said the international community must bring an end to all illegal activities by Israel, including the construction of settlements and separation walls, use of force and violations of the principles of international law. Israel had refused to accept the advisory opinion of International Court of Justice. Settlement activities were an obstacle to the two-State solution and peace, he said, calling for an international framework to set a deadline to end Israeli occupation. The Security Council should take appropriate measures and the Palestinian Rights Committee had a role to play in establishing the State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Without that, there was no peace, he concluded.
Haifa Abu Ghazaleh, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League, also called for an end to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory. Its settlement policy and “Judaization” contravened international legal instruments. Israel’s procrastination to abide by its international obligations had hampered regional efforts to achieve a lasting peace. Israel’s “apartheid” policy against Palestinians must end and a State of Palestine must be established with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel had absorbed Palestine land, protected settler activities, attacked Palestinian civilians, burned Bibles and Korans, treated Palestinian prisoners inhumanely, demolished Palestinians’ houses, displaced them, and changed the names of roads. Those practices under the regime of Benjamin Netanyahu required an international response to hold him accountable. Israel’s settlement policy, rejected by Arab States, was the main reason for the suspension of peace negotiations.
Israel had failed to respect Article 8 of the Rome Statute and Article 49 of the Geneva Convention, she said, urging all parties to return to the negotiation table. The Security Council must adopt binding resolutions and the international community and the Quartet should send a firm message to Israel. They must move from mere condemnation of Israeli acts to concrete pressures to end Israeli occupation. The time had come for Palestinians to live freely and independently, she said, adding that it was also high time to give peace a chance.
Kuwait’s representative noted that Israel’s Prime Minister, who was ready to resume peace negotiations, had lodged an official complaint with the United Nations Secretary-General regarding the Palestinian flag raised alongside those of other States. Immediately following that, Israel had destroyed 25 homes in Ramallah in the West Bank, displacing 132 people. Its deed had contradicted its words, a practice not unusual for Israel. It had failed to respect United Nations resolutions and had helped to foster extremism in the Middle East. He called for the resumption of peace negotiations to ensure the establishment of a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Saudi Arabia’s delegate recalled Security Council resolutions 465 (1980) and 497 (1981), which affirmed the illegality of settlements as well as the necessity to dismantle them, remove the separation wall and stop all “Judaization” measures in Jerusalem. He looked forward to increased efforts by the international community and the directives of the European Union on the import of goods produced in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The international community must relinquish selectivity and double standards that ran counter to the international law, oppose settlement decisions by Israel and must apply pressure on Israel. His Government had constantly supported the Palestinian cause and had condemned Israel’s settlement construction plans and its blatant violation of the inalienable legitimate rights of the Palestinians.
Morocco’s speaker said that participants were discussing a topic of vital importance today. Continued Israeli settlement activities were detrimental to the inalienable rights of Palestinians. Israeli settlements now covered more than 40 per cent of the surface area in the West Bank. Israel had tightened its grip on the Palestine economy, restricting movements of Palestinians and exploiting their natural resources. Settlement construction endangered the social fabric of Palestine and settlers were given free rein to launch attacks against Palestinians. Like a majority of States, Morocco was determined to participate in all initiatives to find a solution for the Palestinian people. The international community should counter Israel’s measures to change the demographic, cultural and religious characters of Jerusalem. Evacuation of settlements would revive the peace process. Israel faced a choice between peace and the continuation of its settlement policy, which would dash hope for the two-State solution.
India’s delegate said his country’s steadfast support and continuing commitment to Palestine was rooted in its modern history, going back to its own struggle for independence. It reaffirmed its support for the Palestine cause and expressed solidarity with the Palestinians’ struggle for a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine within secure and recognized borders side by side and at peace with Israel with East Jerusalem as its capital. India had contributed $1 million annually to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and had donated $4 million in response to the National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza. His country was also undertaking important bilateral development projects in the areas of health, education, skill development and vocational training and was providing budgetary support to the Palestinian Government.
Cuba’s speaker said that the situation in the Occupied Palestine Territory demanded urgent action with full respect of international law. Israel posed a threat to international peace and security, depriving Palestinians of their fundamental rights. Israel must cease its illegal actions and must be held accountable for genocide committed against Palestinians. The Security Council must promote a negotiated solution for two independent States, but the veto power of permanent members had prevented that necessary action. That had demonstrated the need for a thorough reform of the 15-nation body. Cuba expressed firm solidarity with Palestinians’ right to self-determination based on pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also supported the full admission of Palestine to the United Nations. Israeli’s colonial campaign must stop.
A representative from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said Israeli settlements were an obstacle to peace and they could become future drivers of human rights violations. The mere presence of settlements had fragmented Palestine territory and undermined their core rights to self-determination. Occupation must be temporary because annexation was prohibited by international law. Beyond the implications on Palestinian economic, social and cultural rights, the presence of settlements was a source of tension across the West Bank, threatening the Palestinians’ rights to life and freedom of movement, he said, noting that flashpoints of violence had centred on settlements.