Jan. 31, 2013
By John Heilprin
The head of a UN panel behind a report assailed by critics as “one-sided” and aimed at “attacking” Israel, has said the document could be used as “a kind of weapon for the Palestinians.”
At a news conference, French judge Christine Chanet said Palestinians could use the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) report if they wanted to take their grievances before The Hague-based International Criminal Court.
The Palestine Liberation Organization appeared to suggest it might seek such action and said the report, which describes Israel’s settlements as “creeping annexation,” was “proof of Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing” and its desire to undermine the possibility of a Palestinian state.
Israeli officials accused the report of being biased and UN Watch, a watchdog group based in Geneva, also denounced it saying, “The council report is categorically one-sided, casting Palestinians as the sole victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict, while denying the slightest consideration to any basic human rights for Israelis.”
In its report, the HRC panel said Israel was violating international humanitarian law under the Fourth Geneva Convention, one of the treaties that establish the ground rules for what is considered humane during wartime.
The report said the Israeli government was persisting in building settlements in territories claimed by Palestinians for a future state, including east Jerusalem and the West Bank, “despite all the pertinent United Nations resolutions declaring that the existence of the settlements is illegal and calling for their cessation.”
The settlements are “a mesh of construction and infrastructure leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian State and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the report concludes.
The report’s conclusions are not legally binding and Ms. Chanet said Israel did not co-operate with the probe.
The panel travelled to Jordan to interview more than 50 people who spoke of the impact of the settlements, reporting violence by Jewish settlers, confiscation of land and damage to olive groves.
Another panel member, Pakistani lawyer Asma Jahangir, said the settlements “seriously impinge on the self-determination of the Palestinian people.”
More than 500,000 Israelis live in settlements that dot the West Bank and ring east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital. “All the Israeli settlement activities are illegal and considered to be war crimes according to the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention. This means that Israel is liable to prosecution,” said PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi. The settlements, she added, were “clearly a form of forced transfer and a proof of Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry accused the council of taking a systematically one-sided and biased approach toward Israel, with the report being merely “another unfortunate reminder” of that bias.
In a statement, Hillel Neuer, UN Watch executive director, said he was astonished that the report members had decided to ignore a 54-page document with 257 footnotes sent to them by his organization.
“The report disregards the thousands of suicide bombings, knifings, and other terrorist attacks committed by Palestinian Arab groups, failing to acknowledge how this violence brought about Israeli security measures in the territories that did not previously exist,” he said.
“The reality is that the HRC’s fact-finding enterprise is dedicated chiefly to attacking but one country: Israel. In the entire history of the HRC, there have been seven one-sided inquiry missions on Israel, and only five on the rest of the world combined. Mass atrocities committed by Iran, China, or Sri Lanka, for example, have never been subjected to a single HRC inquiry.
“In a week when the UN legitimized genocidal Sudan, by electing the regime as vice-president of a top human rights body, it is now focusing its scarce time, resources and moral outrage on yet another biased, politicized and one-sided report against Israel.”
In November, the UN General Assembly recognized a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in a vote that was largely symbolic.