Creating new perspectives since 2009

Israel settlement activity 'illegal under international law, rooted in selective understanding of history': Italian historian

April 29, 2024 at 3:30 pm

Israeli settler activist groups breach IDF checkpoint near the Erez Border Crossing between northern Gaza and Israel and enter Gazan territory [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

Israel’s outposts and settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory are “illegal under international law and have undermined the prospects for peace”, a prominent expert on the Middle East region has reiterated, as reports circulate of Israeli authorities trying to legalise dozens more settlements in the West Bank.

The establishment of civilian settlements on Occupied Territory was “widely accepted as a war crime” well before the Rome Statute and its provisions that “prohibit the transfer by an occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of the population in the occupied territory,” Lorenzo Kamel, a professor at the University of Turin, told Anadolu.

Regarding international consensus on the status of occupied territories and the illegality of Israeli settlements, Kamel referred not only to the Fourth Geneva Convention, but also the wider context of occupation as evident in UN Security Council Resolution 476, explaining it reaffirmed that “acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible” and “the overriding necessity to end the prolonged occupation of Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem.”

READ: ‘Annihilation’ of Palestinians began with the Balfour Declaration, say international experts

“This was a simple call for withdrawal, without reference to any condition,” said Kamel, who has authored several seminal books on the region’s history, including “The Middle East from Empire to Sealed Identities”.

Kamel further pointed out that the support given to the Jewish people through the British Balfour Declaration in 1917 to settle in Palestine was, even from the British perspective, neither exclusive nor unlimited, but explicitly tied to the protection of the “rights and position of other” sections of the population”.

“Those very same rights were and still are being violated by the continuous funding allotted to new settlements, the recent confiscation of about 8,000 dunams (nearly 1,980 acres) of Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley and through the exploitation of local natural resources, a policy specifically prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1907,” he added.

Furthermore, the British White Paper on Palestine issued in June 1922 – the first document that officially clarified the interpretation of the text of the British Mandate for Palestine granted by the League of Nations – pointed out that the Balfour Declaration did “not contemplate that Palestine as “a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a Home should be founded ‘in Palestine’,” said Kamel.

This was accepted by Israeli leaders, the historian said, referring to a statement by the first Israeli President, Chaim Weizmann, where he clarified it was conveyed to them that “confirmation of the Mandate (of the League of Nations) would be conditional on our acceptance of the policy as interpreted in the White Paper (of 1922), and my colleagues and I therefore had to accept it, which we did, though not without some qualifications.”

“The Palestine Mandate was, therefore, approved on the basis of a clear understanding that aimed to ‘assure to each of its peoples an undisturbed national development.’ The ‘common home’ to which the White Paper was referring to was the area in which Jews and Palestinians were living, and not the land to the east of the Jordan River, completely devoid of Jewish communities and excluded by the White Paper itself,” Kamel explained.

The question of self-determination

Kamel also presented a critical assessment of the claims used by some Israeli political leaders to expand illegal settlements, specifically the “historical Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria,” the ancient region that encompasses the entire West Bank.

READ: Explained: The Balfour Declaration

The land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea did not belong to one single people in its entire millenary history, and this is further evidence of why it must be shared between these two peoples,” the Italian historian asserted.

“That said, those who consider Biblical claims on Judea and Samaria as legitimate political arguments should simultaneously ask the Israeli authorities to give up Ashdod, Ashkelon and other cities, which were never formative components of any ancient Israelite kingdom,” he added.

Kamel said a number of Palestinian intellectuals and leaders in the West Bank have often said any Jewish person can live in their communities.

“However, it’s quite a different story to ask that the settlers who arrived there by force and in defiance of international law, and that have often shown a violent attitude towards the Palestinians, can ipso facto be entitled to see their actions justified,” he said.

“Equating the former to the Palestinians in Israel – who already lived on that land and accounted for the 9/10th of the local population at the beginning of the last century – is not only simplistic, but also morally questionable.”

To a question about Israeli illegal settlement activity undermining prospects for lasting peace, Kamel said it is essential to “respect the right to self-determination of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

“If the international community – including the US and the EU – is serious about this, it should sanction any player, be it Israeli or Palestinian, which acts against the international consensus on the matter,” he said.

“Otherwise, the two-state solution becomes just a slogan … a tool which is useful for the stronger side.”

On the debate over a one- or two-state solution, Kamel said a third, more likely scenario has been proposed by some political Israeli figures, including former Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett.

“Accordingly, Israel would annex Area C of the West Bank, while further sealing off the Gaza Strip, and will offer the Palestinians ‘autonomy on steroids’,” he said.

This plan does not require any sort of war or the removal of most of the population residing in these areas, he added.

“Ultimately, and even more so in light of history, no one should feel entitled to tell Palestinians what they can or should do with their right and quest for self-determination,” Kamel concluded.

READ: US: Israel’s move to legitimise West Bank settlements ‘dangerous and reckless’

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