Hanan Ashrawi
The New York Times (Opinion)
January 20, 2011 - 1:00am

Palestinians are well within their rights to bring the issue of Israeli settlements and their illegality before the United Nations Security Council. Our decision to do so follows both Israel’s refusal to cease all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, and America’s failure to ensure Israel’s compliance with international law and existing agreements. The United States should support such a move, not block it.

It is universally recognized that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, and that without a full cessation of all settlement activity, Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and the two-state solution are both doomed. In spite of the dilution of American public statements, the United States still recognizes settlements as illegal. Not only are they a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention; under the Rome Statute, they are considered a war crime.

With America unwilling to hold Israel accountable to international law and existing agreements, Israel has remained intransigent in the face of international efforts to revive genuine negotiations. A Security Council resolution would reaffirm today’s international consensus in support of the two-state solution by recognizing the threat posed by illegal settlements.

This is not rocket science. Settlements are built on occupied Palestinian land. They also entail the exploitation of Palestine’s natural resources, including water. Both belong to a future Palestinian state. Without them, no Palestinian state can be viable.

The true impact of Israeli settlements is measured not only by the way they undermine the two-state solution; it is also the enormous damage they inflict on countless Palestinian communities.

Settlements superimpose a colonial grid over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. They constitute an illegal exercise of Israeli extraterritoriality in Palestine. Built on the expropriation and theft of Palestinian land, they dominate the surrounding hilltops of the occupied West Bank, encircling and besieging Palestinian towns and villages below.

They stand at the heart of an ever expanding web of checkpoints, walls, roadblocks and settler-only bypass roads that marginalize Palestinian realities and render all normal life impossible. Palestinian farms, businesses and homes have all been destroyed to make way for settlement expansion, while Palestinian lives and livelihoods have been shattered in the process.

The rights and protections enshrined under international law apply as much to Palestinians as to anyone else. Indeed, at the very heart of the Palestinian struggle is a determination to win back these very rights and protections long denied us by Israel. This applies as much to the rights of Palestinian refugees living in exile for the last 60 years, as it does to the many Palestinians who have suffered for over four decades under the brutality of an Israeli military occupation.

Settlements are a fundamental part of this. Given that they continue to expand in flagrant violation of international law, it is perfectly reasonable for Palestinians to turn to the United Nations as a forum in which to pursue their legitimate rights.

The question is not whether or not Palestinians should approach the United Nations. We have every right to pursue all legal avenues available to us, whether in the absence of or parallel to negotiations, just as the African National Congress did in its struggle to overthrow apartheid in South Africa. Rather, the question is why the United States should oppose such a move, particularly given that its own attempts to revive Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have been thwarted time and again by Israel’s refusal to stop building settlements.

Negotiations are not a substitute for international law. Rather, they should be guided by international law, which alone establishes the benchmarks for a just peace. Nor are settlements a bilateral issue whose illegality is up for discussion.

It is just such a message that the Obama administration is in danger of sending by opposing a Security Council resolution reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements. It sets up a false opposition between negotiations and international law, substituting one for the other. And it closes down what few avenues are open to Palestinians, in the absence of negotiations, to continue our national struggle through nonviolent means.

The U.N. charter explicitly references its “faith in fundamental human rights” and the need to uphold “conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law” be respected. What could be more applicable than the damage done by Israeli violations, in particular unilateral measures like settlement activity?

Hanan Ashrawi is a former Palestinian peace negotiator and an elected member of both the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee and the Palestinian Legislative Council.


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