U.N. panel: Israeli settlements break international law

The Human Rights Council said practice of “creeping annexation” clearly violates human rights of Palestinians

Published January 31, 2013 4:47PM (EST)

GENEVA — The United Nations’ first report on the broad policy of Israeli settlements concluded Thursday that the government’s practice of “creeping annexation” clearly violates the human rights of Palestinians, and called for an immediate halt.

In its report to the 47-nation Human Rights Council, a panel of investigators said Israel is violating international humanitarian law under the Fourth Geneva Convention, one of the treaties that establish the ground rules for what is considered humane during wartime.

The Israeli government has persisted in settling Palestinian-occupied territories, including East Jerusalem and the West Bank, “despite all the pertinent United Nations resolutions declaring that the existence of the settlements is illegal and calling for their cessation,” the report said.

The settlements are “a mesh of construction and infrastructure leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian State and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” it concludes.

French judge Christine Chanet, who led the panel, said Israel never cooperated with the probe, which the council ordered last March. At a news conference, she called the report “a kind of weapon for the Palestinians” if they want to take up their grievances before The Hague-based International Criminal Court.

In December, after winning de facto U.N. recognition of statehood, the Palestinians accused Israel of planning more “war crimes” by expanding Jewish settlements.

Because it was not authorized to investigate within Israel, Chanet said, the panel had to travel to Jordan to interview more than 50 people who spoke of the impact of the settlements, such as violence by Jewish settlers, confiscated land and damage to their olive trees that help support them.

Another panel member, Pakistani lawyer Asma Janangir, said the settlements “seriously impinge on the self-determination of the Palestinian people,” an offense under international humanitarian law.

The panel’s report to the U.N.’s top human rights body immediately drew the condemnation of Israel, whose foreign ministry accused the council of taking a systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel, with the report being merely “another unfortunate reminder” of that bias.

“The only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the settlements issue, is through direct negotiations without pre-conditions,” the ministry said. “Counterproductive measures — such as the report before us — will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

The Geneva-based U.N. council was set up in 2006 to replace a 60-year-old commission that was widely discredited as a forum dominated by nations with poor human rights records.

Earlier this week, Israel became the first nation to skip a review of its human rights record by the council without giving a reason. Diplomats agreed to postpone their review until later this year based on Israel’s request for a deferral.

The council, which could have proceeded with the review or canceled it, said its agreement to defer would set precedent for how to deal with any future cases of “non-cooperation.” All 193 U.N.-member nations are required to submit to such a review every four years, and council diplomats said they worried that if nation were let off the hook that could undermine the process.

By Associated Press

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