Widespread human rights violations and abuses, and recurring armed conflict between Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, poses an ongoing threat to civilians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
A new unity government in Israel – led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz – has agreed to annex parts of the West Bank in direct violation of international law. Despite a deal reached between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on 13 August 2020 that requires Israel to suspend annexation plans, Prime Minister Netanyahu has emphasized this is only a temporary measure.
The Israeli government announced the annexation plans shortly after endorsing a “Middle East Peace Plan” released by the United States (US) government on 24 January. The plan contains no right of return for Palestinian refugees, proposes an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and extends Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank. After condemning the plan, the Palestinian Authority sent the Diplomatic Quartet – composed of the UN, European Union, US and Russia – its own plan for Palestinian statehood. President Mahmoud Abbas has also announced that the Palestinian Authority will no longer abide by security arrangements with Israel and the US.
Meanwhile, illegal Israeli settlements, prohibited under international law, 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 476 have been demolished so far this year.
An estimated 1.7 million people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are food insecure. For 13 years the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has been exacerbated by an ongoing air, sea and land blockade by Israel. Following renewed rocket attacks, the Israeli government intensified the electricity crisis by cutting fuel transfers to Gaza during August 2019. Hamas security forces in Gaza have also committed grave abuses against Palestinian civilians, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture.
Between 30 March 2018 and 31 March 2019 at least 199 Palestinians were killed – including 43 children – and over 25,000 wounded by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) along the border between Gaza and Israel during a series of mass demonstrations. An UN Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on the protests determined that the IDF used excessive and disproportionate force in response to the protests, possibly amounting to crimes against humanity or war crimes.
Previous attacks on civilians in Gaza and Israel violate international humanitarian and 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 that led to the death of over 1,500 civilians and the displacement of 500,000 Palestinians.
Annexation of occupied territory violates the Geneva Conventions and the Charter of the UN, and also amounts to a crime of aggression under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Formal annexation of the Occupied West Bank would violate various UN Security Council resolutions and unravel previous security arrangements, recklessly endangering the lives of civilians in both Israel and Palestine.
The systematic nature of human rights violations in the OPT may amount to 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 may also be an illegal form of collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants.
Despite ongoing political conflict over sovereignty and the OPT’s future, Israel, the Hamas de-facto administration and the Palestinian Authority are all obligated to uphold their responsibility to protect.
During 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.
Since Israel announced plans for annexation, the UN Secretary-General, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and numerous heads of state have all voiced their opposition.
All parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must work towards a sustainable political solution consistent with international law and various UNSC resolutions.
Israel must lift the blockade on Gaza, cease illegal settlement-related activity and halt annexation plans. The Palestinian Authority must help end indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians and 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 war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the protection of human rights for all civilians in Israel and the OPT, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
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