Richard Falk, the UN special reporter on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories, recently delivered his report to the General Assembly.
- Publish date:13/10/2008
He cited continued "abuse of international humanitarian law" associated with the "separation wall", "children fatalities due to Israeli use of excessive force" to quell nonviolent demonstrations, and abuses at border crossings.
Despite the details and warnings in the report, Israel's policy of incarceration, targeted assassinations, and near starvation of millions of Palestinians has gone unabated for too long under the eyes of the international community.
This is the longest occupation (and refugee problem) since the establishment of the UN itself; four decades old … and counting.
Failure to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and "Israel's 40-year occupation" would, in the words of Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, "continue to hurt the reputation of the United Nations and raise questions about its impartiality".
Israel has disregarded with total impunity dozens of UN resolutions "censuring", "calling", "urging", "recommending", or "condemning" its attacks, settlements, deportations, and occupation.
Unfortunately, all pleas and demands for humanitarian and political interventions have fallen on deaf ears.
Israel has managed to exploit the short-sighted framework of the peace process to bypass all relevant Security Council resolutions such as 465 of 1980 that strongly deplored all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure, and status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories - including Jerusalem- occupied since 1967.
It also rejected resolution 476, which reaffirmed the necessity to end Israeli occupation of Arab territories.
Resolution 242 of 1967 has been the only resolution that was accepted by the US and Israel as the basis of the diplomatic process, but this has been systematically violated.
The unsettling settlements
Annual Israeli reports on settlement activity have shown that they have been expanding despite relevant UN resolutions warning of the "inadmissibility of Israel’s acquisition of territory by force".
Recently the Israeli government announced new expansions of its illegal settlements; according to Israeli reports and despite official claims to the contrary, illegal Jewish settlement has accelerated at unprecedented pace under the government of Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister.
This has led to a tripling of illegal settlements since the so-called peace process started in 1991.
In his report, Falk said:
"The extent of the settlement encroachment on West Bank and East Jerusalem territorial scope is difficult to calculate with precision due to the continuous process of expansion."
"The prevailing best estimate is that settlement land claims (together with Palestinian land seized for the construction of the separation wall) confiscate 14 per cent of the territory of the West Bank, which is itself only 22 per cent of the original British Mandate of Palestine."
According to recent figures there are currently some 200 settlements, 100 outposts, and 29 Israeli military bases.
The cost of sustaining the settlement network is about $556 million a year, and the number of settlers is estimated to be between 480,000-550,000.
The rate of settlement expansion is placed at approximately four per cent per year, both with respect to land and population.
There are a variety of special problems raised by the settlements that contribute to violence of settlers toward Palestinians and the violence of Palestinian resistance.
The city of Hebron has been a persisting flashpoint where 700 settlers are protected by 300 Israeli soldiers in a city of 150,000 Palestinian inhabitants.
Perhaps, the most telling statistic compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is that Palestinian land taken by Israel for settlements, for closed military zones (including almost the entire Jordan Valley), and for Israeli-declared nature preserves, now renders 40 per cent of the West Bank inaccessible and unusable for residential, agricultural, commercial, or municipal development."
Since the early 1970s, Washington has vetoed 42 UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israeli policies, some of which were drafted by its European allies.
If one accepts the claim that Cold War rivalries had contributed to UN paralysis with respect to the Israeli Palestinian-Arab conflict, (all 690 Soviet-Arab resolutions adopted from 1947-1990 have been ignored by the West), then how can one justify sidelining the UN since the fall of the Soviet Union?
After all, most major post-Cold War conflicts have seen direct UN involvement: Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and of late, Lebanon and Sudan.
But the UN, it seems, cannot deal with the occupation and suffering of Palestine.
Following the end of the Cold War, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was removed from the halls of the world body and entrusted to Israel's allies in Washington.
The few resolutions critical of Israel that were not vetoed by Washington have been utterly ignored by Israel.
Only when the peace process failed to yield a solution did the Bush administration allow the UN to join the management of the so-called peace process, and even then, merely as a junior partner in a newly formed International Quartet that includes the European Union and Russia, all of whom are already members of the UN.
UN is necessary
The only time the UN was allowed a role was in 1997 when it sent a few international unarmed observers to the occupied city of Hebron; but they weren’t mandated to speak publicly about the ongoing violations.
Paradoxically, Israel itself was created by a 1947 UN recommendation for partitioning Palestine, and was accepted as a new UN member on the basis of its commitment to respect its resolution, and specifically the non-binding General Assembly resolution 194 regarding the return of Palestinian refugees.
In the 60 odd years since, Israel has done all but comply with resolution 194 despite its reaffirmation and reiteration dozens of times since.
A quick look at today's Middle East makes it clear that such obstructions of international law and marginalization of the UN served neither party and did not help the pursuit of peace and security in the region.
But what would a UN role be and how would it contribute to peace in the region?
After bilateral negotiations and unilateral venues tried and failed to reach a just solution, the multilateral and legalistic UN approach should be given a chance.
A step in the right direction would be to convene an all-encompassing international conference that addresses all aspects of the conflict.
Palestine deserves the same UN-approved international protection afforded to other suffering peoples of the world.
Perhaps the Security Council could begin by reading Falk's urgent recommendations to end the occupation and arrive at a just solution to the conflict, beginning with the need for Palestinian self- determination.
In his report, Falk urged that the General Assembly should ask the International Court of Justice for legal assessment of the Israeli occupation of Palestine territory from the perspective of the Palestinian right of self-determination.
He also suggested that Security Council assistance should be sought to seek implementation of the 2004 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the legal consequences of the construction of a call in Occupied Territory.
More pointedly, Falk also shed light on "persisting gross violations of the Geneva Conventions over a long period of time". He called for "serious consideration should be given to the legal obligations of the Parties to these treaties 'to ensure respect' for the substantive undertakings as called for in common Article 1 [of the UN Charter]".
Falk also said: "An initial step might be to urge the Government of Switzerland as repository for the Geneva Conventions to convene a meeting of State Parties with the purpose of exploring how to carry out their legal duties, given the persistent and severe violation of the legal regime of occupation by Israel."
He also urged that "serious note should be taken by all relevant agencies of the United Nations of the failure of Israel to fulfill its pledges at the Annapolis Summit to halt settlement expansion, to ease freedom of movement on the West Bank, and to attend to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians under occupation."
Finally, Falk placed the onus on the UN as an international body mandated to "explore its own responsibility with respect to the wellbeing of the Palestinians living under unlawful conditions of occupation, particularly bearing on abuses of border control, freedom and independence of journalists, and the general crisis in health care, especially in Gaza."
The special reporter also emphasized the humanitarian and health crisis in Gaza after more than a year of an Israeli siege.
He said that it should be the UN's highest priority to resume economic assistance to the people of Gaza.
He said: "In the face of an impending humanitarian catastrophe, the responsibility to do what is possible to mitigate human suffering is serious."
"This is a responsibility toward the civilian population of Gaza, and is not dependent on whether Hamas satisfies the political conditions set by Israel or whether the ceasefire holds."
Israeli soldiers raising a flag