Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Is UN criticism of West Bank construction fair?
By RYAN JONES
JERUSALEM - Oscar Fernandez Taranco, assistant UN secretary general for political affairs on Monday repeated the propagandist assertion that the building of homes for Jews in areas claimed by the Palestinian areas is a violation of international law.
Taranco was responding to Israel’s approval of a mere 240 apartments in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev.
Calling such construction a violation of international law has for the past few decades been a favorite tactic of Israel’s detractors. In effect, it paints Israel as an international criminal, thereby excusing or justifying any wrong-doing by the other side, and putting permanent blame on Israel for the shortcomings of the peace process.
As a criminal, Israel is by necessity always the primary, if not the sole, obstacle to peace. But is Taranco’s assertion accurate? Is Israel really violating written-in-stone laws by letting Jews build homes in areas claimed by the Palestinian Arabs?
The reality is that no law has ever been passed by the UN or anyone else prohibiting Israel to build homes for Jews in Judea, Samaria, Gaza or the eastern half of Jerusalem. Sure, the UN has on numerous occasions complained about and demanded that Israel stop building such homes, but those complaints and demands do not constitute law.
The Arabs like to hold up UN Security Council Resolution 242 as justification for claims that Israel is breaking the law. But 242, written in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War, recognized that Israel was the one that had been attacked, and called on the Jewish state to give up some of the territories, not all of the territories, it had taken in the war for the sake of peace.
Lord Caradon, Britain’s delegate to the UN in the 1960s and one of the authors of 242, stated after the fact, “We didn’t say there should be a withdrawal to the ‘67 line; we did not put the ‘the’ in, we did not say ‘all’ the territories deliberately.” In fact, Lord Caradon said that it would be “insanity” for Israel to ever give up the entirety of what is commonly known as the “West Bank.”
During the late 1960s and the subsequent decade or two that was the prevailing international attitude - that it would be prudent for Israel to make certain land concessions for a lasting peace, but that it certainly was not illegal for Israel to be in or build in Judea and Samaria. It should be noted that most Israelis are in favor of giving the Palestinians the bulk of Judea and Samaria for a state, and just want to keep those parts where Jewish towns now exist, which amount to a mere 1.7 percent of the territory.
Since the 242 argument clearly doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny, the Arabs and Israel’s other detractors like to fall back on the Fourth Geneva Convention, penned after World War II to govern the treatment of occupied populations in future conflicts. Article 49 of the convention, the one cited by Israel’s aforementioned critics, prohibits the “mass forcible transfer” of protected civilian populations. It also prohibits the transfer of the occupying power’s own citizens into occupied territories.
Morris Abram, former U.S. ambassador to the UN in Geneva, who was present at the Nuremberg trials when the Fourth Geneva Convention was being hammered out and insists he is well familiar with the “legislative intent” of the document, says it applies to forcible transfers in sovereign territory, and therefore cannot be applied to Israeli settlements.
Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Judea and Samaria were never anyone’s sovereign territory. But there was a law on the books that recognized someone’s sovereign claim to those territories, and that law remains legally enforceable. The 1922 British Mandate for Palestine, the basis of which was first formulated by the League of Nations two years earlier in San Remo, clearly recognizes the Jewish claim to sovereignty over these territories. That document was and still is legally binding. And it was again ratified when the League of Nations morphed into the United Nations. So, it is a law that has been twice affirmed by the international community. In other words, it is international law. And it has never been overturned.
The fact of the matter is that Taranco and others are actually violating international law by denying Jews the right to build in these areas.