Israeli settlements are built on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank as well as Syrian land in the Golan, both of which Israel have occupied since 1967. The UK Government, the EU and the UN are all in agreement – and have a longstanding position – that settlements are illegal, contrary to international law and an obstacle to peace. In December 2016, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2334, which reaffirmed that Israel’s settlements in the oPt have no legal validity, constitute a flagrant violation under international law and are a major obstacle to the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security.
The continued expansion of settlements makes a viable and contiguous Palestinian state impossible by carving up Palestinian territory into smaller divided regions. Illegal Israeli settlements, the infrastructure that supports them and the land expropriation and demolitions that precede their expansion, poses the most significant threat to the viability of the two state solution. They also create and change facts on the ground that infringe the rights of Palestinians to self-determination, equality, and economic opportunities.
As the occupying power, the Israeli government has a responsibility and requirement to uphold international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring its citizens to occupied territory. However, it is now estimated that there are over 600,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, living in well over 200 Israeli settlements and outposts. The settler population has more than doubled since the conclusion of the Oslo peace accords in 1993. Announcements of new settlement projects and expansions has rocketed in the last two years, with an Israeli government apparently emboldened by the Trump Administration in the US.
In “Area C” (which accounts for two thirds of the West Bank) only 1% of land is allocated for Palestinian construction. 70% is allocated for Israeli settlement or military activity. The Israeli road network linking settlements – and a complex system of checkpoints, roadblocks and permits – restricts freedom of movement and impinges on Palestinian’s basic human rights. Access to jobs, markets, schools, hospitals, farming land, and water is severely restricted. The completion of the Separation Barrier (Wall) encircles the settlements, connects them to Israel and further isolates Palestinian populations.
Settlement expansion often brings settler violence with it. Settler violence is tolerated, and in some cases facilitated, by the Israeli authorities – who are legally obliged to protect the Palestinian population. Incidents have included: blocking roads and throwing stones, raiding villages and farmland, torching fields and olive groves, damaging crops, physical assault, and sometimes even hurling Molotov cocktails or using live fire. Only 3% of cases result in conviction and only 8% lead to indictments. A shocking 64% of cases are closed due to police investigative failure. UN OCHA say that settler violence and poor law enforcement by the Israeli authorities has “undermined the physical security and agricultural livelihoods of tens of thousands of Palestinians in some areas of the West Bank and generated the need for assistance and protection by humanitarian actors”. Without urgent measures in place to prevent further deterioration, such actions will continue to worsen the situation on the ground for Palestinians.
The Israeli settlement project brings with it the systematic demolition of Palestinian villages and buildings. Demolitions of structures built without ‘Israeli permits’, for which it is near-impossible for Palestinians to obtain, have increased significantly. The Israeli government says it has to demolish the buildings because of the lack of permits, while at the same time denying the majority of permit applications from Palestinians in Area C.
Since 2006, over 1,340 Palestinian residential units in the West Bank have been demolished, causing 6,024 people – including 3,040 minors – to lose their homes. Around 8,100 people in 46 Palestinian Bedouin communities in the West Bank are at risk of demolition orders and forcible transfer. This leaves Palestinian communities living in constant fear of demolition and removal. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, there are 55 educational facilities in Area C of the West Bank with outstanding demolition orders against them.
One headline case is the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, home to around 180 Bedouin. Its school, built with international donor funding, provides primary education to around 170 children from five different Bedouin communities in the surrounding area.
The community has been living under the spectre of threatened demolition and displacement for years. The planned demolition forms part of Israel’s E1 Plan, which would cut off Palestinians living in East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. All the evidence suggests that the village is to be demolished to make way for the expansion of the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim, which is itself illegal under international law. The United Nations, the UK Government, the European Union and others have condemned Israel’s actions and called on Israel to abandon its plans to demolish the village, warning that it could be a war crime. The case is still in the air, but demolition could happen at any time and international pressure and campaigns seem to have been the only thing stopping the demolition from already happening.
The credibility of Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution is undermined by their creeping de-facto annexation of Palestinian territory across the West Bank.
Trade with settlements
The UK Government repeatedly affirm that Israel must cease settlement expansion. The UK, EU, US and international community have consistently condemned settlement policy. But international criticism, UN resolutions, EU statements and international law have had no impact. We urgently need to move from words to action.
Furthermore, the trade and economic policies of the UK and EU actively sustain the settlements. The most recent estimate of the value of EU imports from settlements is £198 million annually – fifteen times the value of EU imports from Palestinians. That means EU countries are importing 100 times more per settler than per Palestinian. By accepting these imports (largely agricultural products, textiles, cosmetics, carbonation devices, plastics and toys) the UK and EU are recognising to Israel’s extension of sovereignty over the OPT. By trading with settlements and contributing to their permanence, the Government is undermining their stated policy and a considerable level of investment in Palestinian state-building. The UK and EU are providing an incentive for settlements to expand.
There is growing awareness about the need to end the contradiction between rhetoric and action. In 2009, the Labour Government issued guidelines for supermarkets on settlement labelling, which enables consumers to differentiate between goods from settlements and Palestine. The UK Government also publishes guidelines warning businesses about the risks of trading with illegal Israeli settlements.
In June 2014, the EU Council prohibited imports of goods from Crimea and Sevastopol as part of a commitment to non-recognition of Russia’s illegal annexation of those places. This sets a precedent for a UK and EU policy of non-recognition of illegal Israeli settlements.
Specifically, we would like to see the UK Government:
- Support multilateral efforts to establish a database detailing organisations involved in trade or financial dealings with settlements.
- Ban imports of settlement products into the UK.
- Ensure that settlements are excluded from any of the UK’s bilateral and multilateral arrangements with Israel.
- Publish and promote a stronger set of guidelines to businesses and banks to ensure they have no trading, financial or investment links with illegal Israeli settlements.
- Extend and publically promote the labelling guidelines extend to manufactured products.
- Prevent financial transactions to settlements through restrictive measures.
- Introduce an immediate visa ban for violent settlers trying to enter the UK.
- Insist that Israel disaggregate settlement data provided to the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
There would likely be considerable controversy surrounding a decision to end trade and investment with Israeli settlements. This policy would likely be linked to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which is widely considered to be obstructive to the two state solution. The response to this must be that the UK has an obligation to take action under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2334 which requires that states “distinguish between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”. Settlements are illegal and settlement products involve the producers in numerous breaches of international law – including the use of non-renewable Palestinian resources water and minerals.
The UK has an obligation to do what it can to bring Israel’s breaches of IHL to an end. We also have a duty of “non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty” beyond the Green Line, of which the publication of the EU Guidelines in 2013 were a first step toward implementing. It must also be made explicit that ending trade and investment with settlements is categorically not an anti-Israeli policy, but an anti-settlement policy. It will not impact on Israel’s’ economy as a whole, but the settlement expansion that is undermining peace.