Resolution Seeks End to Illegal Promotion of Settlements in Occupied West Bank
February 18, 2011
President Obama wants to tell the Arab world in his speeches that he opposes settlements, but he won't let the Security Council tell Israel to stop them in a legally binding way.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) - The US veto of a proposed United Nations Security Council Resolution calling upon Israel to end illegal policies that promote settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, undermines enforcement of international law, Human Rights Watch said today. The Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is a party, prohibit the transfer of a country's civilian population into territory it occupies.

"President Obama wants to tell the Arab world in his speeches that he opposes settlements, but he won't let the Security Council tell Israel to stop them in a legally binding way," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 explicitly prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilian population into occupied territory. Notwithstanding this ban, almost half-a-million Jewish Israelis with Israeli government support have moved into settlements it has constructed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and formally annexed occupied territory in East Jerusalem, a move not recognized by any other government in the world. The International Court of Justice in a 2004 advisory opinion noted the widely-accepted view that the Geneva Conventions not only prohibit forced population transfers, "but also any measures taken by an occupying Power in order to organize or encourage transfers of parts of its own population into the occupied territory."

Israeli settlement policies also violate international human rights prohibitions against discrimination. Human Rights Watch recently documented Israel's two-tier system for the Palestinian and Israeli Jewish populations in the 60 percent of West Bank area that Israel controls and in East Jerusalem. Israeli policies deliberately withhold basic services from Palestinians, causing tremendous hardships by preventing and punishing the construction of homes and infrastructure for their communities, while providing generous financial benefits and infrastructure for Jewish settlements. Such differential treatment lacks any security rationale, but is meted out on the prohibited basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin.

UN sources told Human Rights Watch that the US government attempted to persuade the Palestinian Authority to forgo a vote on the resolution by offering to support a statement from the Security Council president condemning settlements as "illegitimate," instead of clearly identifying them as "illegal," as provided in the resolution.

As a party to the Geneva Conventions, the United States is obligated "to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances."

"The US government's opposition to accurate language in the Security Council resolution erodes the unified international message that Israel should change its settlement policies," Whitson said. "What's needed from the Obama administration is a clear and consistent message that settlements on occupied territory are illegal and must be dismantled."