International Reports

UN expert calls for accountability as Israel records highest rate of illegal settlement approvals

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2 November 2020

GENEVA (30 October 2020) – The Israeli government’s recent announcement that it has approved construction of nearly 5,000 more settlement homes in the occupied Palestinian territory is a grave breach of international law, an independent human rights expert said today.


“The international community must answer this grave breach of international law with more than mere criticism,” said Michael Lynk, UN special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. Earlier this month, a defence ministry planning committee approved plans for 4,948 more homes.


“As the Israeli settlements continue to devour the land that is meant for the independent Palestinian state, the international community observes, it sometimes objects, but it does not act,” said Lynk. “It is high time for accountability.”


The latest announcement means that the Israeli government has approved more than 12,150 settlements this year, he said.  According to the advocacy group Peace Now, this would be the highest number of annual approvals by Israel since Peace Now began to record the figures in 2012.


“While Israel may have shelved its plans for the de jure annexation of the settlements in August, it is continuing with its de facto annexation of the Palestinian territory through this unrelenting settlement growth,” Lynk said. “Both de facto and de jure annexation of occupied territory are clear violations of the Charter of the United Nations and the 1998 Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court. This acceleration of settlement growth worsens an already precarious human rights situation on the ground.”


On at least six occasions since 1979, the United Nations Security Council has said that the Israeli settlements are a “flagrant violation under international law” and have “no legal validity.”


In 2016, in Resolution 2334, the Security Council demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities.” However, since 2017, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process has reported to the Security Council 14 times that Israel has taken no steps to satisfy this obligation in compliance with Resolution 2334.


Lynk also expressed deep concern that the United States amended its existing scientific agreements with Israel on 27 October to allow joint funding for projects in the illegal Israeli settlements. Previously, the agreements only permitted funding to projects within Israel’s internationally recognized pre-1967 borders.


“These changes to the bilateral agreements between the United States and Israel fly in the face of Resolution 2334, which calls upon all member states to recognize the illegality of the settlements, and to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967,” he said. 


“The international rule of law matters and, if we are to avoid the rule of the jungle, it must be obeyed. And if the rule of law matters, then so must accountability,” Lynk said. “If the Security Council is to speak with authority, then the disobedience of Council directions must have consequences.”


He recalled that in 2016, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon asked: “Is this all meant to simply run out the clock?  [The Palestinians] ask: ‘are we meant to watch as the world endlessly debates how to divide land while it disappears before our very eyes’?” 


At the same time that approvals of new settlement homes are accelerating, Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes and properties is also increasing, Lynk said.


According to Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, 177 properties were demolished in the three months of July, August and September, nearly as many as the 186 destroyed in the first six months of the year.


The 76 Palestinian-owned structures destroyed in September displaced 136 Palestinians and affected the livelihood of 300, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA.


The demolitions also violate international humanitarian law and contribute to the coercive atmosphere in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lynk said.


“Accountability must be on the agenda,” he said. “Settlement products should be prohibited in the international marketplace. Agreements, existing and proposed, with Israel, should be reviewed. The UN Database and the current investigations at the International Criminal Court should be supported.”