Recurring armed conflict between Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups poses an ongoing threat to civilians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Impunity for violations of international law and the failure to reach a comprehensive peace agreement has contributed to recurring armed conflict between Israel and the Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008. The last war broke out during July 2014 when the IDF launched an offensive to halt indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. The 50-day conflict led to the death of over 1,500 civilians and the displacement of 500,000 Palestinians. Since then intermittent exchanges of rocket fire and airstrikes have continued.
For 13 years the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has been exacerbated by an ongoing air, sea and land blockade by Israel. An estimated 1.7 million people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are food insecure. On 25 August 2019, in response to new rocket attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military to cut fuel transfers to Gaza in half, exacerbating the electricity crisis in Gaza. Hamas security forces in Gaza have also committed grave abuses against Palestinian civilians, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture.
Illegal Israeli settlements, prohibited under international law, also continue to expand in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 623 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished or seized by Israeli government authorities during 2019 and an additional 167 have been demolished so far this year. A new unity government in Israel – led by Netanyahu and Benny Gantz – has agreed on plans to annex parts of the West Bank. Under international law annexation amounts to a prohibited act of aggression.
On 24 January United States (US) government released a “Middle East Peace Plan” endorsed by the Israeli government. The plan contains no right of return for Palestinian refugees and proposes an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank. Palestinian leadership and members of the international community condemned the plan.
Previous attacks on civilians in Gaza and Israel violate International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law and may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity. No Israeli or Hamas officials have been held accountable for unlawful attacks committed during the 2014 war, perpetuating a climate of impunity.
The systematic nature of human rights violations in the OPT may amount to possible crimes against humanity. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population into occupied territory. Illegal Israeli settlements are in violation of this provision and have contributed to the volatile situation in the West Bank. Israel’s military blockade of Gaza is also a potentially illegal form of collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants.
In the absence of a meaningful peace process, conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed groups is likely to result in recurring armed hostilities. The provisions included in the US plan are in violation of international law as well as numerous UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.
Despite ongoing political conflict over sovereignty and the OPT’s future, Israel, the Hamas de-facto administration and the Palestinian Authority are obligated to uphold their responsibility to protect.
Following Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute in January 2015, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the opening of a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine. On 22 May 2018 the Palestinian Authority referred the situation in Gaza to the ICC. On 20 December 2019 the Chief Prosecutor concluded that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine.
On 23 December 2016 the UNSC adopted a resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements in the OPT constitute a violation of international law. This was the first UNSC resolution adopted on Israel and the OPT since 2009.
On 6 December 2019 the UN General Assembly failed to adopt a resolution condemning attacks by Hamas on Israel, falling short of the necessary two-thirds majority.
All parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must work towards a sustainable political solution consistent with international law and numerous UNSC resolutions.
Israel must lift the blockade on Gaza, cease illegal settlement-related activity and annexation plans. The Palestinian Authority must help end indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians and rigorously prosecute those responsible. The Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza must permanently halt indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel. All parties should condemn anti-Semitic and anti-Arab hate speech and cooperate fully with the preliminary examination of the ICC.
States with strong political and economic ties to Israel, the Palestinian Authority or Hamas should push for a lasting political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, accountability for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, strict adherence to IHL, and the protection of human rights for all civilians in Israel and the OPT regardless of ethnicity or religion.
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