The political geography of the occupied Palestinian territory is changing at full speed as Israel continues to further its illegal settlement expansion plans. There is now an unprecedented dimension in the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the political landscape of what is, according to international consensus, to be a future Palestinian state, is blocked.
United Nations human rights experts sharply condemned Tel Aviv’s recent announcement to advance illegal settlement constructions in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Michael Lynk, special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, and Balakrishnan Rajagopal, special rapporteur on adequate housing, stated that Israeli settlements are “the engine of the occupation.”
At several occasions, the U.N. has repeatedly lashed out at Tel Aviv’s settlement policy as it targets the credibility of international law. The organization has countless times called for Israel to stop its expansions, as they are a presumptive war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Last month various bodies within the Israeli government approved plans for more than 1,700 new housing units in the settlements of Givat Hamatos and Pisgat Zeev, neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. In the occupied city, the number of settler housing units in the Atarot neighborhood is estimated to be in excess of 9,000 while 3,400 settler homes are planned to be constructed in the E1 area to the east of Jerusalem. In the West Bank, 3,000 housing units in the settlements are being advanced.
Some recent reports indicate that the Israeli government is planning to retroactively legalize several settlement outposts. According to U.N. experts, “the very raison d’etre of the Israeli settlements in occupied territory – the creation of demographic facts on the ground to solidify a permanent presence, a consolidation of alien political control and an unlawful claim of sovereignty – tramples upon the fundamental precepts of humanitarian and human rights law.”
Currently, there are close to 700,000 Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements in the occupied cities of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The very experts stated that “they are responsible for a wide range of human rights violations against the Palestinians, including land confiscation, resource alienation, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, mounting settler violence, racial and ethnic discrimination.”
“Most seriously, the purpose of settler implantation – rupturing the relationship between a native people and its territory – is the denial of the right to self-determination, which is at the very core of modern human rights law.”
The leading actors in the international community including the United States and the European Union have criticized the Israeli plans for settlement expansion; however, “criticism without consequences means little in these circumstances,” the U.N. experts said. “Israel has paid a minuscule cost over the past five decades for building its 300 settlements and defying international law.”
It is being insisted that the ICC must take legal action to investigate Tel Aviv’s controversial policy to ensure law is dominant in the region. The Rome Statute is directly targeted due to the Israeli moves, which should not be allowed for the sake of the credibility of the international community and law.
On its part, since 1970, the U.S. has vetoed dozens of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolutions against Israel, and its use of veto power against the resolutions pertaining to Israel’s settlements date back to around 1983.
In 2011, for example, a draft resolution appeared that aimed to reaffirm “all Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of peace on the basis of the two-state solution.” The then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said Washington agreed that the settlement activity is illegal, but “we think it is unwise for the (U.N.) council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians. Therefore, regrettably, we have opposed this draft resolution.”
Rice served under former U.S. President Barack Obama, who caused diplomatic controversy in 2016, months before he left office to be succeeded by Donald Trump, when he instructed the U.S. to abstain from vetoing a similar UNSC resolution against settlement activity.
The incumbent U.S. President Joe Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, is known for his support of Israel too; however, he faces pressure from progressive Democrats and others to take a greater role in supporting Palestinian rights. That’s why, his administration recently forcefully criticized Israel for the first time in years on its settlements, saying it "strongly" opposed new construction in the West Bank.
This modest reaction came after four years under Trump during whose presidency the U.S. offered a green light to Israel's activity in the occupied Palestinian land. Just remember the controversial regional trip of Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The State Department under Biden was forced to repeatedly warn against the settlement construction due to the concerns mentioned above. Ned Price, the spokesperson for the State Department, said “we strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm, and it damages the prospects for a two-state solution.”
Since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967, the UNSC has failed to fulfill its duties under its charter and follow up with the implementation of its own resolutions, allowing Israel to behave not only as a country above international law but also above the authority of the council.
Unfortunately, all U.N. resolutions were openly flouted by Israel, which increased its assaults rather than complying with the resolutions. The biggest problem is the fact that the UNSC still fails to react regarding Israeli atrocities and war crimes, raising serious questions about its credibility and its ability to fulfill its obligations under the charter.
The re-energized international efforts are critically needed now more than ever for the implementation of UNSC resolution 2334 (2016), which calls on Israel to cease all settlement activity in Palestinian lands. The nature of the phenomenon and its underlying policy pattern – as a part of an ongoing territorial contest – deserves a lot of attention and needs to be dealt with as a calculated policy of expanding one state’s sovereignty into what is internationally recognized as belonging to a different nation and a future state – that of Palestine.