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Samer Jaber & Ron Taylor

International community must hold Israel accountable

The UN needs to take on a more proactive role to ensure Palestinian livelihoods [AFP]

Date of publication: 12 March, 2015

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Analysis: In order to counter Israel's colonisation of the West Bank and safeguard the livelihoods of Palestinians, the United Nations needs to take a more proactive role.

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part article. Read part one here.

That Israel’s policies in Occupied Palestine, Area C in particular, are harmful and oppressive towards Palestinians is without doubt. It is also clear that Palestinians cannot afford to wait for a comprehensive political solution to find relief from the unbearable conditions imposed on them. It is already enshrined in international law and treaties that the occupying power has a duty to ensure the welfare of those living under occupation.

 

Israel though is no ordinary occupying power. Rather it is a

     A proactive engagement should change the discourse from sustaining life into ending the occupation.

colonial one which occupies, displaces, builds colonies and transforms the landscape. In such circumstances, calls for the application of international humanitarian law are bound to fail. The international community should continue to call for Israel to act on its duties but a new radical approach is long overdue.

 

In the absence of any meaningful negotiations towards a just settlement it is essential for the UN to become involved in a much more proactive way. Instead of its current role of monitoring and providing relief it needs to be pushed towards sponsoring a genuine attempt to assist those suffering under the occupation to develop the vast swathes of land which are currently off limits, to train the workforce in modern methods and to enable them to exploit the natural resources.

Legalising the reality

For 20 years, Israel’s continued military control of Area C has produced a de facto annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank, converting the Oslo Interim Agreement into a permanent framework for exercising its sovereignty. Though the international community considers the Israeli actions illegal, Israel has acted with little or no restraint in changing the facts on the ground. Similarly the annexations of East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights too are seen as illegal but Israel exercises full control and sovereignty.

The idea of turning the de facto annexation into a de jure one is something that has gained traction within Israeli politics. It has recently been proposed by the leading far-right figure Naftali Bennett. But even he recognises that such a move would have its costs. Israel would have to grant citizenship to the Palestinian residents of Area C. According to Bennett the estimated number of people involved is around 70,000 to add to the ‘demographic threat’ to Israel. But the real number of Palestinians in Area C is much higher. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affair (OCHA) reported in 2014 that the actual figure is nearer 300,000. The lower Israeli total is no doubt a reflection of a politically motivated counting methodology and of a desire to reclassify residents of Area C before annexation.

 

Such a move, of course, would put an end once and for all to the illusion of a peace process which has been all process and no peace. The mythical two-state solution would be finally laid to rest. And without even a fake peace process the legitimacy of the current Palestinian leadership and the normalization of Israel’s relationships with some of the Arab countries would disappear.

 

It is time that the international community changes its stance on Israel’s violations and categorizes them as constituting a crime against humanity. This way an international mechanism could be created that would hold the Israeli government accountable as an occupying power for violations of Palestinians’ rights based on international humanitarian law. It would be the first step towards ending the suffering of the Palestinian people.

An international presence

To really make a difference in enforcing humanitarian law some form of international presence would be needed on the ground. This could be an exit strategy for Palestinians from the ongoing Israeli occupation and the quisling Palestinian Authority. Israel would, of course, reject any approach of this kind. To counter such a rejection a set of clearly-defined sanctions should be agreed upon and implemented.

 

Some of the duties of such a presence in occupied Palestine would be to monitor the situation, to provide safe access to land and to provide physical protection for the population. It could also be mandated to provide much needed infrastructure projects – water and electricity supply for example – which currently in Area C require permits from the Israeli Civil Administration (a branch of the Israeli Army) and which are rarely forthcoming.

 

A fund could be established under UN trusteeship. Its goal would be economic development as the cornerstone of this new approach with the initial target of eliminating the obstacles imposed by Israel. It would mean an action plan that would allow for urban expansion into Area C, the rebuilding of demolished homes, the development of agricultural areas with modern sustainable farming methods, new technology, the planned exploitation of natural resources and development of the workforce.

 

Palestinians are like any other people; they invest their lives in their land and their families. They want to sustain themselves, to develop their skills and improve their living standards. House demolitions, the inability to access land and all the other measures which Israel pursues to make life as difficult as it can for them keep Palestinians in a spiral of decline. This new approach would empower them and in the end make them less dependent on international aid. It would be an investment that would benefit everyone. This proactive engagement should change the discourse from sustaining Palestinian life under occupation into ending the Israeli occupation.

 

Israeli policies in Area C deliberately undermine chances of statehood. Read more here.

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