The Palestinian Center for Human Rights today expresses serious concerns regarding yesterday’s statement by US President George Bush following his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. In a letter to Sharon, and in an accompanying press conference, Bush effectively legitimized Israel’s long-running settlement policy, which constitutes a grave breach of international humanitarian law, and denied the fundamental right of return of Palestinian refugees. Yesterday’s statement by the US President entirely contradicts international law and numerous UN resolutions, which guarantee the fundamental rights of Palestinians. This latest statement serves only to compound views that the US is continuing to provide financial and political support for Israel’s ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including grave breaches, perpetrated in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs).
Concluding a meeting to discuss Israel’s latest plan for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Bush’s statement expressed overwhelming support for Israel’s current activities in the OPTs, including the ongoing construction of Israel’s so-called “security fence” in the West Bank. Most disturbingly, Bush effectively legitimized the long-running Israeli settlement policy. Israel has continued to expand its settlement policy throughout the OPTs for decades, encouraging Jewish settlement on occupied Palestinian lands in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, through provision of military protection, financial and other incentives. The settlement policy is in clear breach of the prohibition on transfer of parts of the population of the Occupying Power into Occupied Territory specifically defined as a grave breach, namely a war crime, in international humanitarian law. Israel’s illegal settlement policy has been condemned by governments and international organizations around the world for many years. In yesterday’s statement, Bush referred to “new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers” which make it “unrealistic” for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders, the Green Line. This unprecedented legitimization of illegal Israeli settlement blocks flouts international law by supporting the illegal annexation of occupied land, thereby effectively undermining the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. Whilst Bush expresses his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state that is “viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent”, in allowing the continued existence of Israeli settlements, Bush has rendered such a Palestinian state physically impossible; settlements will continue to disrupt territorial contiguity and will continue to undermine the sovereignty of any Palestinian state.
Bush also effectively denied the right of return of more than 4 million Palestinian refugees, most of them forced out of their homes at the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Most of these refugees are still residing in refugee camps in the OPTs or in neighbouring Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, awaiting the implementation of their right of return as guaranteed in international law, and specifically UN Resolution 194. Bush referred to the settlement of Palestinian refugees in the future Palestinian state “rather than in Israel”. The right of return of Palestinian refugees has again been recognized by governments and international organizations around the world for decades.
PCHR is also concerned at Bush’s full support for Israel’s allegedly planned “withdrawal” from the Gaza Strip and some areas in the West Bank, including in respect of maintaining Israeli control over all land crossings, air space and territorial waters, and maintaining “military installations”.
These two issues, settlements and the right of return for Palestinian refugees, are the two most fundamental elements of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. PCHR asserts that any proposed solution to the current conflict which undermines the fundamental right to return and the prohibition on unlawful annexation of occupied land, as well as other fundamental rights, can not bring peace to the region. In denying fundamental rights of Palestinians in this way, this latest initiative cannot make any positive contribution to the achievement of a durable peace. Further, such active political and financial support for Israel’s ongoing violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention stands in flagrant contravention of the clear legal obligations of the United States as a High Contracting Party to the Fourth Geneva Convention, particularly to “to respect and to ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances” as defined in article 1. PCHR strongly condemns Bush’s statement and calls again for any solution for this region to be based on international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention and relevant international human rights treaty law, and relevant UN resolutions.