Australians must ask why we haven’t spoken out on Israeli squatter settlements

Sep 9, 2021

Australia ratified the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1958. So why do we question the ICC’s jurisdiction over war crimes committed in Palestinian territories?

Last month the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Canadian academic Michael Lynk, drew attention to Israel’s non-compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) by its practice of sponsoring Israeli squatters on Palestinian-owned land in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank including East Jerusalem.

Lynk asserted that the illegality of the Israeli squatter settlements is the most settled issue in international law. He relied particularly upon UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (December 2016) which resolution per se has the force of international law.

I reproduce portions only of that instrument.

In its pre-amble the Resolution re-affirms, “the obligation of Israel, the occupying power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention…”  and condemns “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions”.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, inter alia, forbade occupiers from transferring their own populations into occupied territories.

The Resolution proceeds to record the following paragraphs (along with others, substantially intended to implement those paragraphs):

  1. Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;
  2. Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;  and
  3. Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-State solution

Lynk proceeded to call upon the international community to adopt a plan of action which included:

  • calling upon Israel to fully dismantle its settlements
  • developing measures to bring Israel into compliance with international law; and
  • ensuring full accountability of Israel’s leaders responsible for breaches of international law.

Lynk also called upon the international community to fully support the work of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as it investigates whether the Israeli settlements constitute war crimes and violate the Rome Statute. The Rome Statute to which he refers adopted the charter of the International Criminal Court established in 2002 at the Hague.

The Special Rapporteur’s report raises pertinent questions for Australia, its government, its opposition parties, and its people.

Australia ratified the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1958. Australia is, of course, a member of the United Nations, and bound to adopt and implement the Resolutions of the Security Council (Article 25 of the UN Charter). As well, Australia is a signatory of the Rome Statute and ratified it in 2002. And yet despite the fact that Palestine is accepted by the vast majority of nations as a signatory, to which jurisdiction would necessarily extend, Australia still questions the ICC’s jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the Occupied Territories including East Jerusalem.

Australians might ask themselves: How is it that having undertaken obligations as a nation we ignore those obligations, and, indeed, have ignored them for years? Have we compromised our sovereignty by allowing Israel, or Israeli interests, to dictate to us, and if so, why?

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