Palestine: Israel’s Illegal Annexation of Occupied Palestinian Territory Must Be Countered by International Community

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

On Monday, 11 May 2020, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and Al-Haq held a joint webinar entitled Countering Israel’s Impending Illegal Annexation of Occupied Palestinian Territory. The webinar, moderated by Ms. Maha Abdallah of CIHRS, hosted expert speakers comprised of Dr. Susan Power of Al-Haq; Ms. Suhad Bishara from Adalah; Dr. Nasser Al-Qudwa, Member of Fatah’s Central Committee and Chairperson of the Yasser Arafat Foundation; the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Professor Michael Lynk; and Ms. Helena Van Roosbroeck of the MATTIN Group.

The five speakers spoke to an audience of diplomatic missions, policy-makers, and relevant civil society organisations, presenting their analysis on the practical and legal ramifications of Israel’s de facto and de jure annexation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and its effect on the relationship between the international community and the State of Israel. The speakers presented key recommendations for the international community and urged for immediate and effective actions to be taken in order to prevent and stop Israel’s annexation of the West Bank and ensure accountability for Israel’s persistent and deliberate disregard of its obligations under international law towards the Palestinian people over the decades.

In analysing the serious practical, legal and political implications of the State of Israel’s annexation of any parts of the West Bank, an act absolutely prohibited under international law, the speakers stressed on the role of the United States (US) in pushing such unlawful actions, notably through the so-called ‘peace plan’ which undermines the Palestinian right to self-determination, among other fundamental rights. Several speakers reiterated that without the international community imposing consequences for Israel’s continued breaches of international law embodied in its prolonged military occupation and institutional discrimination amounting to apartheid, including on trade, economy and individuals, the existing state of impunity will continue. As highlighted throughout the webinar, it is important for the international community to assess the legal consequences of serious breaches of international law and respond to those with measures and actions.

The practical recommendations made to the international community, as provided by the speakers during the webinar, included recognising the State of Palestine,  banning Israeli settlement goods, supporting the annual update of the UN database of businesses involved in Israeli settlements, and endorsing the International Criminal Court to open investigations into Palestine. Other recommendations, such as reviewing and downgrading existing trade and cooperation agreements and diplomatic representations with Israel as well as imposing travel bans on settlers and settlement leaders, were also proposed by the speakers as effective measures the international community can take to effectively counter Israel’s illegal annexation and settlement activity.

The webinar concluded with the need for genuine and effective accountability and immediate actions by third states, as mere acts of condemnation are not sufficient, as the past few decades have proven. The urgency of international community action also stems from the importance of safeguarding the international legal order, which is already at stake on the question of Palestine.

To read some of the analysis and recommendations made during the webinar by the five speakers:

The following are incomprehensive notes and recommendations presented during the joint webinar held on Monday, 11 May 2020, by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHRS) and Al-Haq, on Countering Israel’s Impending Illegal Annexation of Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Dr. Susan Power, Head of Legal Research and Advocacy Department at Al-Haq, addressed the practical, human rights and legal implications of annexation. Dr. Power stressed the fact that de facto annexation of the West Bank has been on-going since 1967, including through the construction and expansion of settlements, unlawful exploitation of natural resources, as well as the threats posed by Israel’s intention to de jure annex the West Bank, which would lead to the implementation of the Trump Administration’s so-called ‘peace plan’.

Al-Haq called on the international community and States to take immediate action through several means, namely to ensure the implementation of international law and the protection of the Palestinian people through the implementation of economic sanctions and other measures until Israel adheres to its obligations. Moreover, Dr. Power called on States to reject the Trump administration’s ‘peace plan’, to recognise the State of Palestine and receive full membership at the United Nations, to implement laws banning the import of goods and services originating from illegal Israeli settlements to continue to support the annual update of the UN database of businesses involved with Israeli settlements, and to ensure continued support for accountability mechanisms, namely the International Criminal Court.

Ms. Suhad Bishara, Director of the Land and Planning Rights Unit at Adalah, analysed the connection between Israeli law and politics and how this has led to a shift in the Israeli legal discourse and its framing of settlements and the OPT over the years. The interpretation of the Israeli Supreme Court of international law applicable in the OPT has allowed the Israeli government to do as they please with minimal restrictions and has given Israeli settlers and companies more space to carry out unlawful activities in the West Bank. Ms. Bishara reaffirmed the de facto annexation happening on the ground, but warned that the de jure annexation would have a tremendous impact, resulting from the change in the Israeli legal perspective regarding the West Bank.

On a political level, Ms. Bishara noted that the Trump plan adopts the Israeli principles of Mandate Palestine being the homeland of the Jewish people, and therefore denies Palestinians the right to self-determination, a sovereign state with territorial integrity, the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Ms. Bishara explained that the Trump plan greenlights segregation, control and demographic engineering in the pursuit of expanding Israel’s imposition of sovereignty, which is considered a matter of urgency by the current Israeli coalition government. Lastly, Ms. Bishara highlighted that should Israel’s formally annex the West Bank, it would amount to apartheid.

Meanwhile, Dr. Nasser Al-Qudwa, Member of Fatah’s Central Committee and Chairperson of the Yasser Arafat Foundation, reflected on the annexation of East Jerusalem following its occupation in 1967 by Israel, in its laws, policies and practices, and the reaction of the international community. Dr. Al-Qudwa stressed that Israel’s creeping annexation of East Jerusalem demonstrates a settler-colonial project in Palestine as a pretext to ongoing annexation. Following the unlawful annexation of East Jerusalem, the international community responded with scores of resolutions from the UN General Assembly and Security Council condemning and rejecting Israel’s annexation. Noting the UN Security Council resolutions, which reject Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and consider it part of the occupied Palestinian territory subject to the Geneva Conventions, Dr. Al-Qudwa called on States to withdraw their diplomatic relations from Jerusalem and to oppose Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the city. In addition, Al-Qudwa advised that if Israel formally annexes the West Bank, the official Palestinian responses should be to terminate the previous negotiated settlements between Palestine and Israel, to reaffirm the national goal to achieving independence on 1967 borders, and to request support from the international community to support this goal of Palestinian people.

Professor Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, addressed the political meaning of impunity in the context of Israel’s prolonged military occupation and outlined the specific accountability measures that should be considered by the international community. Professor Lynk highlighted that in two previous occasions, Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan without the United Nations or the international community taking any effective measures of accountability in response – or for any of Israel’s countless violations of international law over the years. In contrast, he highlighted the discrepancy between the international community’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol with effective accountability measures, to that of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan. He noted that Israel would only fulfil its obligations under international law when the international community imposes consequences, including on trade and economic relations with Israel.

Professor Lynk stressed that the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention should convene a conference to study measures to enforce the Convention in the OPT, focusing on the dismantling of Israel’s settlement enterprise and reaffirming the unlawfulness of prolonged occupation. In addition, he urged full cooperation with the International Criminal Court and for full activation of domestic mechanisms, where possible, to hold Israeli perpetrators to account for war crimes, as well as continuing to support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

In addition, the UN Rapporteur listed effective and practical accountability measures that should be used by States not only to stall annexation but to also allow for a genuine peace process and enable Palestinians to genuinely realise their right to self-determination, including:

  • Reviewing and downgrading existing trade and cooperation agreements with Israel, with particular reference to the European Union;
  • Downgrading diplomatic representations with Israel and recognising the State of Palestine;
  • Refusing the entry of settlement goods to markets without a certification from the Palestinian Authority, a replication of the current the practice for Crimea and northern Cyprus;
  • Prohibiting registered companies, organisations and institutions from trading in, donating, fundraising and contributing to settlements and the settlement economy;
  • Imposing travel bans on settlers and settlement leaders, including mayors in settlements;
  • Supporting the UN database on businesses involved with Israel’s settlements.

Ms. Helena Van Roosbroeck, Member and Research Fellow at the MATTIN Group highlighted issues relevant to the European Union (EU) response to annexation, outlining obstacles to any new foreign policy positions or decisions in relation to Israel that require unanimity. However, Ms. Van Roosbroeck outlined other aspects of EU external action that do not stem from these same foreign policy drivers, citing the EU’s refusal to grant preferential treatment to settlement products and the 2013 guidelines on the prohibition of EU funding for Israeli activities in occupied territories – both of which stem from internal legal necessity. The legal necessity drivers at play in these cases include the EU’s commitment to respecting public international law and its non-recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967. The drivers also include the EU’s commitments to maintaining an internal rule of law and ensuring consistency between its activities and its policies.  Ms. Roosbroeck mentioned specific EU responses to new Israeli annexation measures that could be similarly compelled by legal necessity. Recommendations to politicians included resisting political attempts to conflate measures stemming from legal necessity with exercises of foreign policy discretion (e.g. carrots and sticks), or advocating for them as such.

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