Israeli settlement building in the West Bank represents a “creeping annexation” of Palestinian territory and is putting a future Palestinian state in jeopardy, according to a UN fact-finding mission report, released today.
The Jewish state has an obligation not to allow its citizens to move to the West Bank, which under international law is regarded as occupied territory, the report added.
The investigation was the first of its kind into the issue of settlements. In tough language, it concluded that the settlements exist for the exclusive benefit of Israeli Jews, and that they created a system of segregation.
The panel's chair, Christine Chanet, called on Israel to immediately stop all new building. Asma Jahangir, another member of the panel, said the settlements, “seriously impinge on the self-determination of the Palestinian people.” The UN’s Human Rights Council will debate the report in Geneva on 18 March.
Israel stopped cooperating with the three member investigatory panel, claiming that the probe was biased when it was launched in March last year. Since then, the country has not issued visas to members of the panel, and has denied access to areas of the West Bank
Palmor Yigal, a spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, said: “The only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the settlements issue, is through direct negotiations without pre-conditions. Counterproductive measures - such as the report before us, will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“The Human Rights Council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel. This latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of that.”
The report does not have any binding consequences, and indeed stops short of recommending that the issue be put before the ICC. However, the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by
President Mahmoud Abbas, has said that it might use the findings as a basis for its own case at the ICC, which it now entitled to do, having secure UN observer state status at the UN last November – a move which Israel was bitterly opposed to.
In response the Israeli government said it would resume settlement building in the controversial E1 area. The PA says that would cut Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank off from East Jerusalem, which it has designated as the capital of any future state.
The moribund peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has effectively been frozen since 2010, when an Israeli moratorium on settlement building was lifted. Both sides in the conflict say they are ready to resume meaningful talks, but the issue of settlement building has so far proved to be a major impediment to face to face negotiations. There have been no direct talks between the two sides since September 2010.