ISRAELI SETTLEMENT ACTIVITY AT CORE OF RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN PALESTINE
The UN said the Israeli settlements in Palestine constitutes one of the main obstacles to a viable Palestinian state and called on Israel to withdraw from territories it has occupied since 1967.
By Kanaga Raja
The report of the UN Secretary-General on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan to the thirty-fourth session of the UN Human Rights Council said Israeli settlement activity is incompatible with Israel's obligations under international law.
"Israeli settlement activity further constitutes one of the main obstacles to a viable Palestinian State. The significant role that the production and trade of settlement goods plays in helping to support and maintain settlements is also of concern."
The report, covering the period between 1 November 2015 and 31 October 2016, called on Israel to implement all relevant United Nations resolutions, including Security Council resolution 497 (1981), and withdraw from territory it has occupied since 1967.
To meet its obligations under international law, Israel must stop building settlements, reverse any settlement development activity, and make full reparations to individuals and communities concerned, which include the obligation to re-establish the situation affected by violations.
"Within the scope of its obligation to respect and ensure respect for human rights within the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Government of Israel has the duty to protect the Palestinian population against human rights abuses by third parties, including business enterprises."
It should implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and, in particular, take the necessary legislative, administrative policy and remedial actions to prevent, investigate, punish and redress abuses.
"The Israeli authorities must rescind all policies and practices that, directly or indirectly, are likely to lead to the forcible transfer of Palestinians, including policies and practices that contribute to the creation of a coercive environment that forces people to leave their communities," the report further recommended.
It noted that with the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory now in its 50th year, illegal settlement activity continues to advance apace.
Through continued expansion of illegal settlements and parallel efforts to consolidate Israel's control over the West Bank, successive Israeli governments since 1967 have overseen the steady growth of the settler population and the unilateral takeover of large swaths of the West Bank's land reserves, in violation of international law.
The settler population in Area C (under full Israeli control) and East Jerusalem has doubled since the Oslo Accords, reaching over 594,000 people (including an estimated 208,000 in East Jerusalem) by the end of 2015, living in some 130 settlements and 100 outposts.
The report said this number is expected to rise further given the advancement of new construction in settlements.
"Israeli settlements and designation of land for exclusive Israeli use have resulted in the gradual fragmentation of the West Bank, demographic changes and illegal exploitation of natural resources, while restricting Palestinians' access, and denied possibilities for Palestinian development."
IMPACT OF ISRAELI SETTLEMENT ACTIVITY
According to the report, since the start of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territory in 1967, a central feature of its settlement policy in the West Bank has been the gradual takeover and designation of land for exclusive Israeli use.
This has been undertaken through various measures, including the declaration of "state land", declarations of closed military zones, State support for informal takeover of lands, declarations of national parks and archaeological sites, and encouragement of economic activities in the settlements.
As a consequence of such policies, approximately 70% of Area C land is off-limits for Palestinian construction and development, and the situation in East Jerusalem has been profoundly altered.
Over one third of Area C is formally designated as public land (referred to as "state land" by Israel), following a process of land registration initiated under Jordanian rule and since 1967 by Israeli authorities. The vast majority of "state land" declarations took place before the start of the Oslo peace process in the early 1990s. "State Land" has been allocated exclusively for use by Israel and its citizens, rather than for the benefit of the local population, as required under international law.
The report said land allocations to 24 Israeli regional and local settlement councils, comprising 126 settlements on approximately 63% of Area C, typically encompass – in addition to settlement built-up areas – farmland, industrial zones, parks, access roads, and security perimeters or buffer zones.
During the reporting period, the Israeli authorities declared over 200 hectares south of Jericho as "state land".
"Violence against Palestinians, trespassing, and forceful takeover of land have often been conducted as part of a calculated effort by settlers to expand Israeli control beyond settlement jurisdiction areas. These actions became effective land takeover methods, notably due to the passivity of the Israeli authorities in addressing them," said the report.
The declaration of national parks and archaeological sites and their promotion for Israeli and international tourism continues to contribute to consolidating Israeli civilian presence and control over land in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Approximately 14% of Area C land is designated for national parks, and tourism heritage site development rooted in the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem has profoundly altered the shape and character of the areas surrounding the Old City, creating footholds for residential settlement expansion in Palestinian neighbourhoods.
Through financial incentives, the Government of Israel continued to actively encourage commercial development by Israeli and international businesses in and around the settlements.
Almost all settlement industrial zones are designated as National Priority Areas (NPAs), which carries benefits such as reductions in the price of land, grants for the development of infrastructure, and tax breaks for individuals and business enterprises.
In its recent report on settlement businesses, Human Rights Watch noted that the physical footprint of Israeli business activity in the West Bank was larger than that of residential settlements. According to the report, industrial zones (1,365 hectares) and agricultural land (9,300 hectares) exploited by Israel in the West Bank cover 1.7 times more surface than the built-up area of residential settlements (6,000 hectares).
Israel's policy of construction and expansion of settlements and related infrastructure, and support to privately- led settlement expansion initiatives throughout the West Bank continued, and an overall acceleration in settlement expansion was observed during the reporting period.
There were significant developments in planning and construction during the period under review, particularly in East Jerusalem, including the issuance by Israeli authorities, in November 2015, of a tender for 438 housing units in the settlement of Ramat Shlomo, in the northern periphery of the city.
Other key developments in East Jerusalem included the advancement of residential planning and construction and infrastructure in the southern perimeter of the city by municipal planning authorities.
The acceleration of settlement-related policies and measures in the southern Jerusalem periphery and Bethlehem Governorate resulted in the fragmentation of the area, the shrinking of space available for Palestinian development, and the separation of rural hinterlands from urban areas.
Key concerns emanating from these developments include the impact on the rights of Palestinian residents of the area to freedom of movement, an adequate livelihood and the enjoyment of natural resources.
Israeli civil society organizations reported on the growth of privately-led settlement efforts in East Jerusalem, particularly in the city's Historic Basin, which has seen a 25 per cent increase in the total number of settlers between 2009 and October 2016, to approximately 2,500 settlers.
These initiatives are supported by Government funding, including a security budget allocated by the Ministry of Housing and Construction, totalling approximately US$25 million in 2015.
"Intensified efforts by Israeli settler groups to take control of East Jerusalem properties, often located deep within Palestinian neighbourhoods, have generated an increased risk of evictions of Palestinian families."
While no outpost was legalized during the reporting period, and indeed since May 2014, efforts to retroactively approve such settlements took a new form during the period under review, as a draft bill was introduced to avert the impending court-mandated 25 December 2016 deadline for the evacuation and demolition of the outpost of Amona, erected on private lands of residents of Silwad, Ein Yabroud and Taibeh.
The "regularization bill" envisaged the retroactive "regularization" of settlement houses built on private Palestinian property, which would remove key legal obstacles to the retroactive legalization of dozens of unauthorized outposts.
The report also said that the production and trade of settlement goods raises concerns about the human rights impacts on Palestinians caused and exacerbated by business enterprises and States.
Israel's human rights obligations within the Occupied Palestinian Territory stem from the jurisdiction and effective control exercised by Israel as the occupying power. This includes the obligation to protect individuals and communities from adverse human rights impacts by third parties such as business enterprises, operating in territory under its effective control.
Under Article 1 common to the Geneva Conventions, State parties have to respect and ensure respect for the Conventions. Accordingly, third States are under the obligation not to recognize the unlawful situation resulting from Israeli settlements, nor to aid or assist in Israel's violations.
The European Union is Israel's main trading partner with trade amounting to over EUR 32 billion in 2015. The Government of Israel reportedly estimated that the annual value of industrial goods produced in settlements and exported to Europe is $300 million. Agricultural production provides the main source of income for settlements in the Jordan Valley, with 66% of their produce being exported.
Products that are wholly or partially produced in settlements are frequently labelled as coming from Israel, obscuring their actual origin. This allows the exports to be covered under preferential trade agreements with the EU that exclude settlements.
Some measures have been taken to address these issues. During the reporting period, the EU issued new labelling guidelines for products coming from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, or the Golan Heights. Under these guidelines, any products originating from settlements must not be labelled as "Made in Israel" but must clearly be labelled as produced in settlements.
While States have a primary duty to protect human rights, there is an independent corporate responsibility to respect human rights applicable to all business enterprises, irrespective of where they operate.
This is recognized in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which are based on existing responsibilities under international law and have been unanimously endorsed by all the Member States of the Human Rights Council, said the report.
It also highlighted that there is concern that Israel as the occupying power is increasing pressure on Palestinians through practices and policies that contribute to a coercive environment in areas under full Israeli control, propelling them to move out of their areas of residence.
The report cited several factors that contribute to a coercive environment in the West Bank, under full Israeli control, including "relocation" plans and evictions, demolitions, and pressure from Government officials.
Demolitions, threats thereof, and lack of long-term protection against demolitions have been identified as key elements of a coercive environment in the West Bank. Demolitions have been identified as a key coercive factor in particular for Area C communities targeted for "relocation", inside closed military zones, and located near Israeli settlements.
The reporting period saw the highest number of demolitions of Palestinian homes and structures on record in the West Bank, with 874 structures demolished in Area C in 2016, compared to 456 in 2015; and 190 demolitions in East Jerusalem, compared to 79 in 2015, the highest demolitions rate on record.
Between 1988 and 2016, the Israeli Civil Administration issued 14,929 orders to demolish around 16,000 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, which had been built without permits from the Israeli authorities.
The reporting period also saw an alarming acceleration in the pace of demolitions in East Jerusalem, reaching 190 between 1 January and 31 October 2016, compared to 79 in 2015.
Other factors contributing to the coercive environment include the strict residency regime for East Jerusalem residents and restrictions on family unification between residents of East Jerusalem and of other parts of the West Bank.
Similarly, policies and practices in the context of the five-decade long Israeli occupation can contribute to a coercive environment, notably Israel's confiscation of Palestinian land and restrictions on access to and control over natural resources, including water, impeding the development of the Palestinian economy; restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians in the West Bank including East Jerusalem; the lack of access to effective legal remedies; and collective punishment measures such as punitive demolitions, may also contribute in specific cases to the existence of a coercive environment.
SETTLEMENT ACTIVITY IN OCCUPIED SYRIAN GOLAN
According to the report, settlement expansion and land appropriation by the Government of Israel in the occupied Syrian Golan continued in direct violation of international law. In October 2016, the Government reportedly approved the construction of 1,600 new homes in the illegal settlement of Katzrin.
The Israeli Government is also reportedly seeking to appropriate approximately 20,000 acres of occupied land to create the Hermon National Park. The land in question is currently used for agriculture and housing by the nearby Syrian towns of Majdal Shams and Ein Qynia.
The appropriation of the land would severely restrict the possibility for development and expansion of the town of Majdal Shams, said the report.
Israeli authorities reportedly undertook the first home demolition in the Syrian Golan on 7 September 2016, in the village of Majdal Shams, on the basis that it was built without the necessary permit.
"Discriminatory land, housing and development policies established by the Israeli authorities have made it difficult for Syrians to obtain building permits, which results in increasingly overcrowded Syrian towns and villages."
Of further concern are reiterations by senior Israeli Government officials, including the Prime Minister, during 2016 that Israel will never give up its claim to the Golan Heights, the report said. – Third World Network Features.
The above article is reproduced from SUNS #8425, 20 March 2017.
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