The Legality of West Bank Settlements

  • Settlement building is often criticised and is said to be illegal under international law.   But the legal status of the West Bank territory is disputed.   
  • The December 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2334 does not affect the legal status of the West Bank.  
  • Israeli settlements are criticised as being a breach of international law by various organisations, countries and international commentators on the basis of the application of the 4th Geneva Convention Article 49 (6). This states that the “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population in the territory it occupies”.   
  • There are two substantial errors with this criticism. 
    1. The first is that the 4th Geneva Convention does not actually apply in this case as Jordan was not a sovereign power which lost control of the West Bank to Israel.  Under Article 2 of the Geneva Convention, there has to be a displaced sovereign power, whose land is then occupied by the new power.  (see Article xxx for details)  Although the Israeli Government has voluntarily accepted certain aspects of the Geneva Convention,  it has never acknowledged that it is an occupier under the laws of occupation.   
    2. The second error relates to the reason Article 49(6) was drafted, in the aftermath of World War Two. The entire Article is concerned with forced transfer of populations against their will, for the purpose of liquidating them or to provide slave labour.  The purpose of the 4th Geneva Convention is to protect people from acts of a government that is not their own.  
  • Israelis argue that the Israeli settlements do not contravene Article 49 since Arab inhabitants have not been displaced by the settlements. Moreover, the anti-colonialist provisions are inappropriate to describe the people who voluntarily move to the West Bank areas such as Hebron, Gush Etzion or Jerusalem which had a continuous Jewish presence until the expulsion of the Jews by the Jordanians in 1948.  The Israeli authorities have never forcefully deported their nationals to disputed territory.  
  • Academics have analysed examples of similar “occupation” in modern times, in areas including East Timor, Western Sahara, Northern Cyprus, Syria/Lebanon, , Armenia/Azerbaijan, Russia/Georgia and Russia/Crimea. They found that for any occupation of more than a few years, settlement activity is part of the occupation.  There has been no international criticism of these settlement activities and none were accused of violating  the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition of “transfer”. The lack of international response in effect legitimises these settlement projects.  
  • The Israeli courts deal with specific disputes regarding Jewish settlements in the West Bank or Gaza but are not prepared to deal with abstract political arguments. In one 1979 case, the Court was not convinced by an argument that private land in the West Bank should be expropriated as it was necessary to be used by the army and decided that this use of private land was illegal.
  • Israel’s detractors argue that the settlements are an impediment to peace. However the final status of the settlements is to be agreed following direct negotiations between the two sides of the conflict. The Palestinians have refused to negotiate in recent years. 
  • Settlements in the Sinai did not stop Israel’s withdrawal in 1982 in pursuit of peace with Egypt. Settlements in Gaza did not stop Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in 2005. In both instances the territory was made ‘Judenrein’ (‘Jew-free’). 
  • Those arguing against settlements say that Jews should be prohibited from living in certain areas, simply because they are Jews. Ironically, Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention was supposed to deal with the racist policy towards European Jews, their deportation and forced transfer. Today, the same Article 49 is being used by the Palestinian Arabs, who are pursuing another racist policy and demanding that the West Bank be ‘Jew-free’.   This is a real obstacle to peace particularly since there is nothing in international law to indicate that Israeli settlements are illegal. 
  • FOR MORE ON THIS TOPIC SEE THE FULL ARTICLE :   Legality of Israeli Settlements December 2016

The West Bank and Gaza

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