Monday, February 17, 2014

Israeli "settlements" are not illegal under international law

...resolutions, coming from the various United Nations bodies, especially the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council are all based on alleged violations of one article of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. This article 49 (6) states, "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."

The unremitting criticism of Israeli settlements since 1967 has been based on this one legal argument.
For the most part the criticism of those settlements, that they are illegal or illegitimate, is wholly political rather than legal. It is the starting point for the more extreme argument for the elimination of the Jewish State. Nevertheless, it is useful to discuss the validity of the legal argument for opposition to the settlements.
That opposition is faulty on many grounds. The 1949 Convention is concerned with the forced deportation or transfer of people for political or racial reasons or for colonization of territories.
First, it is eminently clear that the settlements, whether justified or unhelpful, are not illegal under any international law since they stem from voluntary movement of people, not forced transfers or deportations. They are not intended to displace anyone, nor are they manifestations of colonization.
In no way do they prevent or violate any Palestinian right to self-determination. Buildings do not affect the future status of the areas. Nor are they a real obstacle to the necessary peace negotiations, in spite of proclamations to the contrary of Palestinian leaders.
There are two aspects that challenge the Palestinian and the UN use of Geneva 4. The first is that the land on which the settlements exist is disputed territory, the resolution of which must come from the final status negotiations. Though international resolutions simply refuse to accept the fact, the disputed land was not under any previous legitimate sovereignty of a state.
Simply put, the West Bank had no internationally recognized legal sovereign power prior to 1967. Jordan had indeed "annexed" the territory, but this was not internationally recognized. Therefore logically, the areas of the settlements may have had Arab residents but are not "occupied territories."
Jews have settled in the area of Palestine in accordance with the League of Nations Mandate given to Britain in 1922. Article 6 states, 
"The Administration of Palestine ...shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions...and shall encourage close settlement by Jews on the land, including state lands not required for public use."
Jews therefore settled on the land, except during the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank, 1948-67; the sale of land to Jews was a capital offense.
The settlements are of various kinds. Some involve the voluntary return of individuals to areas from which they were ejected by Arabs, areas such as Hartuv, established in 1883, Ne'ev Yaakov in 1924. Kfar Etzion in 1927, and Hebron from historic times.
This historic Jewish presence in the area belies the fantasy argument of some Palestinian leaders that current Palestinians are descendants of the original inhabitants of the area, Canaanites, or Jebusites, or Philistines, and that they were in Jericho 3,000 years before Joshua...

*Michael Curtis, author of "Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East", is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in political science at Rutgers University. Curtis, the author of 30 books, is widely respected as an authority on the Middle East.
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