Trump’s assent to Israeli settlements could lead to apartheid, UN expert
President Donald Trump’s decision to no longer treat Israeli settlements as being inconsistent with international law could lead to an apartheid situation, a UN human rights expert warned today. It could be the “very last nail in the coffin” of a two-state solution and has undermined the rules-based international order.
“This will only confirm a one state reality characterized by a rigid two-tier system of legal and political rights, based on ethnicity and religion. This would meet the international definition of apartheid,” said Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.
Above all, Lynk called upon the international community to “take further steps to put international law into action by prohibiting the importation of settlement goods and services into the international marketplace”.
This call is in direct defiance of Trump’s position and that of several US States and many in Congress and Senate that the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement should be resisted and cooperation with it punished. Currently, there are approximately 240 Israeli settlements and around 650,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In a separate statement, UN Human Rights spokesperson Rupert Colville downplayed the impacts of the new US decision. “As part of the UN Secretariat, we continue to follow the longstanding position of the United Nations that the Israeli settlements are in breach of international law,” he said. “A change in the policy position of one State does not modify existing international law, nor its interpretation by the International Court of Justice and the (UN) Security Council.”
Speaking to reporters earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo clarified that “the United States Government is expressing no view on the legal status of any individual settlement.”
“The conclusion that we will no longer recognize Israeli settlements as per se inconsistent with international law is based on the unique facts, history, and circumstances presented by the establishment of civilian settlements in the West Bank.
“The hard truth is there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace. This is a complex political problem that can only be solved by negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
Lynk strongly rejected Pompeo’s central assertion that “calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn’t worked. It hasn’t advanced the cause of peace.”
“This is not a step towards peace or justice in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The American Government’s decision to jettison international law and to legitimize the illegal Israeli settlements is probably the very last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution,” Lynk countered. “This effectively grants permission to the Israeli government to formally annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, as it has already done with East Jerusalem.”
Mindful of America’s rivals like Russia, Pompeo added a cautionary note to his announcement. “Our decision today does not prejudice or decide legal conclusions regarding situations in any other parts of the world,” he said.
Those words were an attempt to cut off opponents who might use Trump’s decision about Israeli settlements in lands occupied through war to support the legality of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the creation of independent enclaves along the borders of Georgia through military coercion.
Lynk characterized Pompeo’s announcement as “the latest in a series of recent moves that has undermined the rules-based international order”. It is “a decisive break with international consensus and will only further entrench the perpetual Israeli occupation.”
Combined with Trump’s earlier decisions to “recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights and to move its embassy to Jerusalem,” this new decision has pushed the chances of a shared future by Israeli Jews and Palestinians based on equality even further away.
“The Israeli settlements are a major source of human rights violations, and they are the engine of Israel’s occupation,” Lynk insisted.
“They are built on confiscated Palestinian property; they rely upon the illegal appropriation of Palestinian natural resources, including water, land and minerals; and they have forced Palestinians into smaller and more constricted space on their own territory.
“Most importantly, the incessant expansion of the Israeli settlements has robbed the Palestinians of hope for a future based on freedom.”
The international community’s long held view is that Israeli settlements are a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which also strictly prohibits an occupying power from settling its own civilian population in territory that it occupies or diverting natural resources.
Virtually every member state of the United Nations has affirmed the illegality of the Israeli settlements. This is also the position of the International Court of Justice, the United Nations Security Council, the UN General Assembly, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Council, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and by Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations.
Alleging consistent bias against Israel, the Trump administration has taken the US out of the UN Human Rights Council, to which Lynk reports.