Three basic issues have been worrying Israel since its creation in May 1948; they are inseparable.
The first relates to the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and be compensated for damage and disadvantage. That right is both collective and individual, and is inalienable, unable to be waived, denied or negotiated away.
The second relates to settlement building, which has a divisive and racist dimension, in law and practice. Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem, are illegal in international laws, conventions and treaties, in particular the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and its annexes of 1977.
Both issues are linked inextricably with the third: the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and an independent and viable state. The state announced by the Palestinian National Council in Algiers in 1988 was in line with the legitimate right represented by self-determination, freedom and independence, on the basis of the Charter of the United Nations and the International Declaration for the liquidation of colonialism, no. 1514 of 1960.
The problems of establishing the state and securing the right of return while bringing an end to illegal settlements – in short, returning to UN resolutions 181, 242 and 338 among others represent the essence of Palestinian rights. At the same time, they signal the beginning of the end for the State of Israel’s ongoing expansionist policies manifested in its settlement programme.
If the issue of an independent Palestinian state capable of living like other countries is a cause of concern for Israel, then East Jerusalem as the capital is most disturbing to the Zionist project. The latter requires distinctly racist policies, based on the idea of a promised land, which aim to create “a pure Jewish state”. Ever since the last Friday of Ramadan was declared to be “World Jerusalem Day”, Israeli outrage has grown as its advocates realise the importance of the Holy City not only to Muslims the world over but also to the Palestinian issues of borders, water rights and resistance to Israel’s military occupation.
Israel’s illegal settlements cause concern around the world, which perhaps led Israel and its main ally, the United States, to put pressure on the international community to abandon the creation of the International Criminal Court through the Rome Statute of 1998. This document regards the settlement of occupied land as an “international crime”, as do international laws and conventions. The Israeli government, with Washington in tow, tried to scupper the implementation of the Rome Treaty at the last possible moment before it was due to come into force in 2002. This has had an impact on the whole notion of accountability and justice in the case of international crimes and crimes against humanity, even though the two allies did not succeed.
This is why the issue of settlements is at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The international Human Rights Council adopted a number of decisions on 22 March 2012 on the issue of Israel’s settlements, which led to outrage in Israel; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the HRC as a “hypocrite council”. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, also condemned the Council, saying that it is a “hypocritical body which relies on double-standards intending to tarnish” his country’s reputation. Israelis and their supporters do not hesitate to label the HRC as “pro-Palestinian”.
This is a real paradox; since when have those in power in the international community been biased or even neutral about the rights of the Palestinians? The values and rules invoked by the Human Rights Council have little effect on world leaders, despite the Council’s best efforts.
The HRC has condemned Israel’s repeated announcements of new housing units in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and called upon it as “the occupation force” to abandon its settlement policies, and prevent any “settlement” in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights. The resolution also called for the respect of international obligations and work to prevent settler violence against Palestinians. The HRC suggested that a fact-finding committee should be sent to all of the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem, to monitor the effects of settlements on Palestinian civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
The Israeli government understands the meaning and significance of this recommendation, which hits the Zionist project at its heart, especially regarding the “purity of the state” and “Jewish identity”.
In this sense, Israel feels frustrated by what is clearly an international trend, not least because it has been expelling Palestinians from Jerusalem and its suburbs to give the area a Jewish identity. Such Palestinians lose their residency rights in the city and their property will be confiscated by the Israeli state and handed over to more illegal settlers.
The repercussions of this are comprehensive and work towards erasing the Arab character of East Jerusalem, falsifying history. That is why Israel refuses to cooperate with the UN mission.
Other Human Rights Council resolutions relate to the economic situation and the role of the occupying power which is responsible for the administration of the occupied territory. These are duties which Israel does not carry out.
The Council adopted four resolutions, perhaps the most important of which is 35.L/19/A.HRC; 36 member states voted in favour, with the United States alone in voting against it, while ten countries abstained.
Resolution 34.L /19/A.HRC was adopted by a majority of 44 countries, with two abstentions and the United States again alone in opposing it. This resolution regards all measures taken by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem, as violating international law and contrary to relevant Security Council resolutions (especially the resolution issued in 1980 not to recognise the legitimacy of the Knesset decision to annex Jerusalem); it also demands that Israel stops settlement activity, dismantle them and compensate Palestinians affected by them.
This resolution was preceded by 33.L/19/A.HRC, which calls for respect for the right of self-determination for the Palestinian Arab people, in freedom, justice and dignity, and the establishment of an independent, sovereign and democratic state. Resolution 36.L/19/A.HRC was aimed at following up with the recommendations made by the fact-finding committee after the aggression against Gaza, Israel’s so-called “Operation Cast Lead”.
All these resolutions are important steps towards justice on the part of the international community, which deserve popular and official Arab effort, particularly diplomatic and legal, to follow-up the recommendations adopted by the Human Rights Council on the issue of settlements.
We should not allow the same thing to happen with the HRC resolutions as happened with the successful UN General Assembly resolution 3379, which declared that Zionism is “a form of racism and racial discrimination”. Unfortunately, the Arab states were somewhat negative or non-committal towards this, which led to it being overturned following successful pro-Israel lobbying. We need to mobilise responsibly the Arab states so that such efforts are indeed the beginning of the end for Israel’s expansionist settlement policies.
The author is an Iraqi academic. This article is a translation of the Arabic which appeared on Al Jazeera net. on 4 September 2012
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.