Wednesday, December 27, 2006

First Settlement in 10 Years Fuels Mideast Tension

One has to seriously wonder how important a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is to either Bush or Olmert when one hears that Israel is planning to build her first new settlement in the West Bank for ten years. Indeed, when it comes so hot on the heels of Israel's supposed attempts to encourage support for Abbas it strikes one as an act of idiocy as well as an act if illegality.

At a time when the Israelis have elected Olmert to evacuate the West Bank of Israeli illegal settlements, the decision to build a new one is simply perverse. And yet, bizarrely, that is exactly what they intend to do.

The planned new settlement will be called Maskiot, and approval was given for the construction of some 30 houses. The Israeli official insisted that all construction would be privately financed.

The housing will be used by the 20 families of the hawkish Gaza settlement Shirat Hayam, which resisted evacuation. To get them to leave Gaza peacefully, the army promised to keep them together.

The decision, the official said, “sort of went through and now it’s done and would be very hard to undo.”

Israel essentially decided to stop the building of settlements in 1992 when Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister, although it has allowed existing settlements to grow, even as it has publicly promised to freeze settlement activity under the so-called road map for peace.

Emily Amrusy, a spokeswoman for the settlers’ council known as Yesha, said that the families would move into trailers on the site while construction began on more permanent housing.

A spokeswoman for the American consulate in Jerusalem, which deals with the West Bank, said a new settlement would be troubling. “We’re looking into it, and if turns out to be a new settlement, we would be very concerned, given Israel’s obligations under the road map,” said Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, the spokeswoman.

The US may very well be "concerned" but that concern should turn itself into some form of action by the administration to stop this. And we all know that, under this US President, no action that is critical of Israel will ever be taken.

Indeed, settlement building has flourished under the Bush regime with some 50 illegal outposts appearing since Bush came to office.

The road map calls for a freeze in settlement building in the first phase and a Palestinian push to dismantle terrorist groups. Israel says that the dismantling should come first and that no such action has taken place. But it has separately promised the Bush administration that it would build only within existing settlement structures to account for natural growth, “thickening” the settlements but not expanding them physically.

Israel also promised that it would dismantle more than 20 illegal outposts set up since March 2001, but it has dismantled only one, under an Israeli court order.

Much of the world considers all Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal under international law; the United States, which used to call them illegal, now calls them “obstacles to peace” that prejudge final-status negotiations. The outposts are illegal under Israeli law because the government has not authorized them.

I love the ambiguity the New York Times attempts to insert here regarding the illegality of the settlements. It's as if it's a legal issue that has yet to be resolved with "much of the world" thinking that they might be illegal.

The truth is that they have already been found to be illegal and that only the US and Israel appear to think that UN resolutions are a starting point for negotiation rather than a final judgement.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions forbids any occupying power from moving parts of it's civilian population into the territory it occupies. The legality of moving parts of your civilian population into such territory is therefore already decided. It is illegal to do so.

The argument that Israelis have since fell back on is that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the Occupied Territories.

This argument has been robustly rejected by the international community:

Israel remains isolated in this legal interpretation and position. The majority of the international legal community has rejected the Israeli arguments since 1967 outlined above, and has repeatedly reiterated that Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and cannot evade the obligations it committed to undertake as a High Contracting Party to the Conventions.

Israel has exercised effective control of the OPT since 1967. As Article 42 of the Hague Regulations stipulates, a “territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army,” and that the occupation extends “to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.” Similarly, in the Hostage Case, the Nuremburg Tribunal held that, “the test for application of the legal regime of occupation is not whether the occupying power fails to exercise effective control over the territory, but whether it has the ability to exercise such power.” This test continues to apply to Israel’s relation vis-à-vis the Wes Bank and Gaza Strip.

Repeated resolutions by the UN General Assembly and Security Council, and statements issued by governments worldwide, have all affirmed the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the OPT, and have called upon Israel to abide by its obligations as an occupying power. Similarly, on 5 December 2001, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention reaffirmed, “the applicability of the Convention to the OPT, including East Jerusalem and reiterate[d] the need for full respect for the provisions of the said Convention in that territory.”

This position was most recently confirmed in July 2004 by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory. The ICJ referenced the agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) which resulted in the transfer of certain powers and responsibilities to the Palestinian National Authority, emphasising that these events, “have done nothing to alter this situation, [and that] all these territories (including East Jerusalem) remain occupied territories [in which] Israel has continued to have the status of occupying power.” In this regard, the Opinion also states that “civilians who find themselves in whatever way in the hands of the occupying power” must remain protected persons “regardless of changes to the status of the occupied territory.”

After affirming the applicability of the Hague Regulations to the OPT, the ICJ also addressed the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to these territories. For this purpose, and in reference to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 June War, it recalled Article 2(1) of the Convention, noting that this convention applies “to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more High Contracting Parties....” Once these conditions have been met, the ICJ states that the Convention is deemed to apply “in any territory occupied in the course of the conflict by one of the contracting parties.”
As Israel took this land whilst fighting Egypt and Syria - who were both High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention at the time of the war - her arguments regarding the application of Geneva to the territories cannot be taken seriously.

Therefore the US and Israel are engaging in blatant acts of illegality, of which this newest settlement is just the latest in a forty year campaign illegal settlement building.

The test now is what Bush will do about this latest outrage. I suspect nothing. That seems to be his way with each illegal act Israel engages in from Lebanon to the occupied territories.

I wonder if Americans can see any connection between this and the isolated position their country holds in the world today, and in the fact that anti-Americanism has taken a shocking rise around the planet since Bush came to power?

I am sure many right wing Americans will console themselves with the lie that most of the planet is anti-Semitic rather than face up to the truth that, as we do not live in the most powerful country in the world, international law matters much more to us than it does to most Americans. It is our only protection, and it is truly dismaying to see the US back a country whilst it treats international law with such disdain.

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