INTERNATIONAL MEETING ON THE QUESTION OF PALESTINE
Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace – possible ways forward
Brussels, 7 and 8 September 2015
The International Meeting on the Question of Palestine was convened under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) in partnership with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the League of Arab States (LAS). The Meeting aimed to mobilize support for a just and comprehensive solution to the Question of Palestine. It discussed the current situation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem under European Union and international law, and provided a forum to present ways forward, including how to enhance the international community’s role.
Invited to the meeting were all United Nations Members and Observers, inter-governmental organizations, UN Agencies, civil society organizations, and the media. Seventy Member States, two Observer States, six United Nations Agencies and bodies, four international organizations, twenty civil society organizations and twelve media organizations participated. Speakers included internationally renowned experts on the Question of Palestine, representatives of the Palestinian Government and civil society, as well as Israeli experts and civil society representatives. The Meeting was open to the public and the media.
In his message to the Meeting at the opening session, the Secretary-General of the United Nations emphasized that building illegal settlements runs against the Government of Israel’s stated intention to pursue a two-State solution. The Secretary-General pointed to continuing settlement expansion and the impunity related to settler activity as a root cause of violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Secretary-General called on Israel to do all it can to protect civilians, including those under its occupation. He also expressed concern over recent rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza and called on leaders on all sides to speak out to prevent extremists from taking control of the political agenda. Finally, he encouraged the Quartet, the League of Arab States, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and all regional and international stakeholders to play a more active role in fostering an enduring peace.
The Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People emphasized that from the standpoint of international law, Israeli settlements on Occupied Palestinian Territory are illegal. He recalled Security Council Resolution 465 of 1980, which stated that measures taken by Israel to change the physical character and the demographic composition of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, constituted a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Security Council further declared that Israeli settlements constituted a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
The Representative of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation noted that Israeli settlements fragmented Palestinian land and communities, including Jerusalem which was in a phase of “Judaization”. Settlers’ activities, including measures to transform the demographic character and to exploit the Occupied Palestinian Territory’s natural resources, were in clear violation of international law. He called on the international community to establish an international framework and a timeframe to end the Israeli occupation.
The Representative of the League of Arab States noted that Israel’s settlement policy, as well as the “Judaization” of Jerusalem and its “apartheid” policy against Palestinians, contravened international law and Security Council resolutions. She urged the parties to return to the negotiation table and called on the Security Council and the Quartet to move from mere condemnation to concrete actions in order to end Israel’s occupation and bring about peace.
The Foreign Minister of the State of Palestine declared that since 1967, Israel had openly led the planning, construction, development, and consolidation of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Some 600,000 settlers, living in 250 illegal settlements in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, have effectively confiscated over half of the territory of the State of Palestine. The “settlement regime” aimed at the unlawful appropriation of land and property from the Palestinian people as well as at the creation of a new demographic reality on Palestinian land. Security Council resolutions adopted between 1971 and 1980 had condemned Israel’s settlement activity as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and called for its cessation. The Foreign Minister called on the European Union and on States to take all possible measures to ensure that state institutions, companies, entities and individuals cease their involvement in the illegal Israeli “settlement regime”.
In the ensuing sessions, participants emphasized that settlement construction was an official, systematic, premeditated and deliberate policy, aimed at blocking Palestinians’ right to self-determination and at confiscating up to 75 per cent of the West Bank’s “Area C”, including through “de-Palestinization” of Jerusalem. According to recent data, settlers numbered approximately 400,000 in the West Bank and 200,000 in East Jerusalem. Moreover, the settlements enjoyed an entire infrastructure network, including “by-pass” roads, which converted them into Jerusalem’s suburbs. Retroactive legalization of out-posts to create settlements’ “neighbourhoods”, and the so-called E1 Plan, aimed at extending the territory of Jerusalem’s municipality or to simply increase the number of settlements. Settlements had a negative impact on daily lives of Palestinians not only by limiting their freedom of movement but also their access to water, food, adequate standards of living and education.
Experts outlined a regime of discrimination and segregation against the Palestinian population implemented not only via a two-tiered legal system, but also through its collective punishment, displacement and land grabbing to establish Jewish settlements. Such practices are prohibited under international law; the International Court of Justice Advisory opinion of 2004, the Fourth Geneva convention, Article 8 of the Rome Statute and numerous Security Council resolutions prohibit the transfer or deportation of population by the occupying power into the territory it occupies, defining them as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Despite absolute clarity under international law settlements continued to thrive in a climate of impunity – speakers stated that demanding accountability for Israel’s illegal practices was the way to achieve the two-State solution.
Participants drew parallels between Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, and other similar situations, pointing to the international community’s different response. Speakers introduced various legal strategies that States could adopt to promote adherence to international law, including referrals to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention allowed for the exercise of universal jurisdiction by national courts of Third High Contracting Parties. Third parties have positive obligations under international humanitarian law, including respect for international humanitarian law, non-assistance to an illegal situation, and respect for human rights by private domestic companies. From these obligations concrete actions by Third parties could include prohibition of import or trade in products manufactured in settlements. From a legal perspective the issue was not a question of “boycott” but for States to uphold their responsibilities and obligations under international law.
The use of various forms of economic and trade means was debated, labelling of products manufactured in settlements being one. Some participants called for the European Union to suspend the Association Agreement with Israel, as Article 2 of the Agreement stated that relations must be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles. The EU’s failure to react to Israel’s breaches of its commitments sent the message that violations of basic principles of human rights were tolerated.
Speakers noted that the European Union could do more to explain its policy of “differentiation” between Israel and its settlements policy on one hand and its bilateral relations with Israel on the other. The European Union held the legal responsibility, as normative actor and as Israel’s largest trading partner to formulate incentives for Israel to change its settlements policy. With the Unites States “withdrawing” from the Middle East peace process, with no peace talks in sight and a right-wing government in Israel, European Union could have a unique opportunity to become a key player in promoting the two-State solution.
In response to a question on the way forward, speakers argued that political, economic and legal accountability for Israeli leadership was a main concern for Israel. Defining a border contiguous to a viable Palestinian State and estimating how many settlers would have to be relocated to Israel were the only two real questions to answer. The border was currently being delineated unilaterally by Israel, through the construction of more settlements. Some suggested that comprehensive multilateral negotiations under the United Nations umbrella, coupled with a peace process addressing the core issues, such as the fate of Palestinian refugees, was the only way forward. Speakers also stressed the need to educate the Israeli public on the reality of settlements, including in relation to the prospects for the two-State solution, and address the marginalization of the peace camp; it was argued that the prospects for a two-State solution were hampered by mere lack of political will. Experts agreed that the two-State solution remained the only possible solution also because it was in the interest of Israel, in order for it to remain a democratic State.
In closing remarks, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations in New York said that all available tools must be revisited to make Israel’s occupation and settlements costly. To save the two-State solution, Palestine requested that Israel stop settlement activities, which was the prerequisite for any political process. He urged the Security Council to take action and warned that if the body failed in its responsibilities an international conference to end the occupation of the Palestinian Territory would be necessary. Failure to move the peace process forward toward the two-State solution would fuel extremism and even perhaps religious conflict in the region.
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***Note: This Summary attempts to provide an overall description of the International Meeting’s deliberations. A detailed report will be published by the Division for Palestinian Rights in due course.
Document Sources: Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR), League of Arab States (LAS), Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
Subject: Access and movement, Fourth Geneva Convention, Human rights and international humanitarian law, Inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, Jerusalem, Land, Occupation, Self-determination, Settlements
Publication Date: 08/09/2015