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Will the UN heed its Rapporteurs' warning on Israel's settlement war crimes?

A picture taken on August 26,2021 shows construction works in the Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev, near the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Ramallah [AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images]
Construction work seen at an Israeli settlement near the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, 26 August 2021[AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images]

"The Israeli settlements are a presumptive war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and should be treated as such by the international community," UN Special Rapporteurs, Michael Lynk and Balakrishan Rajagopal declared in a statement earlier this month. This goes a step further than the non-binding resolutions which UN officials usually rely on when chiding Israel for its settlement expansion.

So far, the international community has only spoken out about settlement expansion as infringing international law. When the ICC clarified its position regarding Israel's colonial expansion, the UN kept its distance and issued the usual perfunctory statements which did nothing to back up the war crimes statement.

The UN Special Rapporteurs' statement discusses the Israeli government's latest plans for settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem and additional dwellings for settlers in the occupied West Bank. "The very raison d'être 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," Lynk and Rajagopal stated.

A scathing conclusion draws attention to the international community's failures in upholding accountability when it comes to Israel: "An international community that does not impose accountability measures on a defiant occupying power, contrary to international law, cannot be serious about its own laws."

READ: Israel court rejects petition against settler project at Ibrahimi Mosque

Had the international community been serious about holding Israel accountable, it would have traced its own culpability back to the 1947 Partition Plan, now hypocritically commemorated as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Furthermore, the latest designation of Palestinian civil society organisations as terror groups by Israel's Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, would have been collectively opposed, as well as understood within the framework of such organisations calling out Israel's colonial expansion and war crimes.

But the international community's distinguishing between Israel and its settlement expansion has kept the settler-colonial state immune from repercussions. Settlement expansion has been treated as a phenomenon without a culprit, and largely tied to the humanitarian framework which has substituted Palestinians' political rights to land for meagre aid.

When the ICC issued its war crimes alert, the UN had a major opportunity to align its purported human rights values with the efforts to establish criminal accountability. Instead, it created a greater discrepancy in refusing to even consider the war crimes accusation against Israel, thus allowing the Israeli government ample space to politicise its opposition to the investigations, as well as lobby against the ICC's decision.

Will the UN take heed of the latest warning? Probably not. This is not the first time that Lynk has pointed out the international community's role in Israeli impunity, yet the UN remained entrenched in its self-styled oblivion. The truth is, as Lynk pointed out, that the UN cannot be taken seriously. A strong admission when considering that the Palestinian question, as the UN likes to refer to colonisation, has been in the hands of Israel's accomplices, and Palestinians have had to resort to the same culpable institutions for resolution.

READ: Palestine is an occupied land, a fact recognised by international law

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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