Commentary Magazine


Topic: international law

The UNHRC’s Omissions and Assumptions

Evelyn Gordon rightly highlights the unique treatment Israel receives at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and she is right that Western governments should “insist that the council’s systemic denial of Israel’s rights come to an end.”

For those who want to see just how skewed the UNHRC’s report is, this AIJAC analysis of the report should be a must read. The whole thing is worth a read, both as a Cliff’s Notes to the report itself, and a rebuttal to some of the more egregious statements and omissions.

Just a few highlights:

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Evelyn Gordon rightly highlights the unique treatment Israel receives at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and she is right that Western governments should “insist that the council’s systemic denial of Israel’s rights come to an end.”

For those who want to see just how skewed the UNHRC’s report is, this AIJAC analysis of the report should be a must read. The whole thing is worth a read, both as a Cliff’s Notes to the report itself, and a rebuttal to some of the more egregious statements and omissions.

Just a few highlights:

4. Significant omissions

4.1. Security measures

The Report discusses at length the impact of various measures, such as movement restrictions and the construction of the security barrier in the West Bank. These measures are in place to prevent terrorist attacks against Israelis - a fact that the Report utterly failed to note. In fact, that Israel has been subject to attacks by Palestinians is not mentioned once in the entire document.

4.2. West Bank legal system

A substantial amount of the alleged human rights abuses in the Report are due to the application of the Jordanian legal system in the West Bank, largely as it existed when Israel took control in 1967. The Report does not at any stage explain why Israel is implementing that system - which is in fact required under the laws of belligerent occupation.

Were Israel to cease implementing that system, it would be in breach of its obligations under international humanitarian law. Furthermore, whenever the possibility of Israel substantially amending that system is raised, Israel is condemned for attempting to annex the West Bank by imposing its own legal system. If continuing to apply the Jordanian legal system is against international law, Israel is caught in a Hellerian Catch-22.

5. Direct inconsistencies

5.1. Location of settlements

In some instances, the Report directly contradicts its own findings. For example, at one stage, the Report states that:

‘Settlements are generally located amongst the more vulnerable sections of Palestinian society, predominantly agrarian villages’ (at [18]).

Then in the next paragraph, the Report notes that:

The Mission heard that settlers can broadly be divided into three categories. Those who have moved on quality of life grounds and live in settlements close to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv…

 

8. Incorrect or unverified research

8.1. Water resources

The Report alleges that:

The settlements, including the associated restrictions, impede Palestinian access to and control over their natural resources. The Secretary General has noted that “Palestinians have virtually no control over the water resources in the West Bank” (at [36])…

The reference given for this is a 2012 report by the Secretary-General of the UN, which in turn referred to a 2004 report by the Economic and Social Council…

So in a seven year game of “Chinese Whispers” at the UN, Israel planning to build a barrier in a route incorporating most of an aquifer system that provides 51% of the West Bank’s water became the Palestinians having ‘virtually no control over the water resources in the West Bank’. 

Additionally, the route of the barrier as it currently stands has been substantially altered since the 2004 plan, but the Mission apparently did not think that it was worth checking if the actual route incorporated the same land.

8.3. Israel’s establishment

The Report claims that:

The “Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel” is issued. It equates Eretz-Israel (in Hebrew “the Land of Israel”) to the territory of British Mandate Palestine, in contrast to the provisions of 1947 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 on the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into two Independent Arab and Jewish States (at p23).

This allegation is unfounded and entirely incorrect. In fact, the Declaration specifically provides that:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL is prepared to cooperate with the agencies and representatives of the United Nations in implementing the resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947.

The whole thing is not only worth reading, but should also be in any policymakers’ reference file. Kudos to AIJAC.

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Settlements’ Legality Won’t Prevent Peace

The release of a report on the legality of Israel’s presence in the West Bank commissioned by Prime Minister Netanyahu is being widely dismissed by critics of his government as well as those of the Jewish state. Though its findings that Jews have the right to live in the territories and that Israel’s presence there does not fit the traditional definition of a military occupation are solidly based in international law, no one should expect the left to respect the report issued by a panel headed by former Supreme Court Vice President Edmond Levy. Nor should we be surprised if the international community ignores it. Opposition to the settlements is so deeply entrenched that there is no argument, no matter how grounded in logic or justice, that would persuade those committed to the myth settlements are the only obstacle to peace, that they are not illegal. As legal scholar David M. Phillips wrote in the September 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, international law supports this position.

But while we expect this effort to be trashed, those horrified by the fact that Israel is willing to assert that it has rights in the West Bank that are as worthy of respect as those of the Arabs are not just wrong about the legal arguments. Their assumption that a belief in the settlements’ legality makes a peace deal impossible is equally mistaken. Just because Israel has rights in the West Bank doesn’t mean it need necessarily exercise them on every inch of the territory. The assertion of Jewish rights merely means Israel has a leg to stand on when negotiating the permanent status of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Far from that rendering peace unlikely, it ought to give Palestinians an incentive to come to the table and work out a deal that will give them as much of the territory as they can get. The obstacle to peace is the Palestinian belief that the Jewish presence throughout the country — including pre-1967 Israel — is illegitimate.

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The release of a report on the legality of Israel’s presence in the West Bank commissioned by Prime Minister Netanyahu is being widely dismissed by critics of his government as well as those of the Jewish state. Though its findings that Jews have the right to live in the territories and that Israel’s presence there does not fit the traditional definition of a military occupation are solidly based in international law, no one should expect the left to respect the report issued by a panel headed by former Supreme Court Vice President Edmond Levy. Nor should we be surprised if the international community ignores it. Opposition to the settlements is so deeply entrenched that there is no argument, no matter how grounded in logic or justice, that would persuade those committed to the myth settlements are the only obstacle to peace, that they are not illegal. As legal scholar David M. Phillips wrote in the September 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, international law supports this position.

But while we expect this effort to be trashed, those horrified by the fact that Israel is willing to assert that it has rights in the West Bank that are as worthy of respect as those of the Arabs are not just wrong about the legal arguments. Their assumption that a belief in the settlements’ legality makes a peace deal impossible is equally mistaken. Just because Israel has rights in the West Bank doesn’t mean it need necessarily exercise them on every inch of the territory. The assertion of Jewish rights merely means Israel has a leg to stand on when negotiating the permanent status of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Far from that rendering peace unlikely, it ought to give Palestinians an incentive to come to the table and work out a deal that will give them as much of the territory as they can get. The obstacle to peace is the Palestinian belief that the Jewish presence throughout the country — including pre-1967 Israel — is illegitimate.

As Phillips and the new report pointed out, the international conventions prohibiting the movement of people into occupied territory has no application in the West Bank, as it forms part of the League of Nations Palestinian Mandate that was established to facilitate the creation of a national home for the Jews. Far from the West Bank being “stolen” from the Palestinians, it was simply unallocated territory from the former Ottoman Empire where Jews had legal rights as powerful as those of the Arabs. Nor do the postwar resolutions formed in response to Nazi policies in Eastern Europe that are frequently cited by settlement foes apply to Israel’s very different policies.

The widespread interpretation of this report is that it will allow Netanyahu to avoid demolishing those settlement outposts that were not previously authorized by the government. But any outpost that was built on land owned by Arabs can still be uprooted by legal action, as was the case with the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El.

The fallacy here is not just that the effort to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem is not a correct interpretation of international law. It is just as important to note that once Israel’s rights are confirmed, it doesn’t obligate Netanyahu or any of his successors to hold onto all of the land. The report’s recommendations that limits on growth in existing settlements should be lifted likewise doesn’t mean that a peace deal can’t be reached. Most of the settlements would be retained even in proposals put forward by the Jewish left, and those left out could still be evacuated, as the withdrawal from Gaza proved.

What it does do is force the Palestinians to understand that if they want peace, they must compromise.

But that is something they won’t do on the West Bank for the same reason they are unwilling to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. It is that reluctance to give up their opposition to Jewish sovereignty even inside the Green Line that prevents peace. Were the PA willing to make a peace deal that would end the conflict for all time, they could have the independent state they were offered and refused in 2000, 2001 and 2008. The settlement’s legality wouldn’t stop Israel from evacuating any place conceded in a peace deal. But so long as the Palestinians are encouraged to believe they can uproot all of the Jews, including those living in the Jewish settlement built on the outskirts of Jaffa a century ago that is now known as Tel Aviv, it won’t matter what the legal scholars say about any of this.

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