Ahmad Gharabli / AFP - Getty Images
A Palestinian activist fixes a flag near a proposed new encampment in the West Bank on Jan 20.
Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank violate Palestinian human rights and must be withdrawn, United Nations investigators said Thursday — a move described by observers as "unprecedented."
An international report by the U.N. Human Rights Council said Israel is "committing serious breaches of its obligations under the right to self-determination and under humanitarian law."
All settlers must begin to withdraw from the occupied territories, the report said. It echoed the earlier claim of Palestinians that the the practices of settlers could be considered possible war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
Israel, which did not cooperate with the investigation, dismissed the document as "biased" and said it would "only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict."
Tel Aviv-based Haaretz said the "unprecedented" conclusion was the U.N.’s "harshest condemnation of Israeli policy in West Bank since 1967."
About 250 settlements in the West Bank have been established since 1967 and they hold an estimated 520,000 settlers, the U.N. said.
Palestinians claim the settlements hamper Palestinian access to farm lands.
The report [PDF link], led by French judge Christine Chanet and summarized in a news release in Geneva on Thursday, said:
"Israel must, in compliance with article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, cease all settlement activities without preconditions. It must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers from the OPT (occupied Palestinian territories).
These violations are all interrelated, forming part of an overall pattern of breaches that are characterised principally by the denial of the right to self-determination and systemic discrimination against the Palestinian people which occur on a daily basis.
Since 1967, Israeli governments have openly led, directly participated in, and had full control of the planning, construction, development, consolidation and encouragement of settlements, the report states."
Asma Jahangir, one of the authors of the report, said: "We are today calling on the government of Israel to ensure full accountability for all violations, put an end to the policy of impunity and to ensure justice for all victims."
Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement refuting the findings, according to the Jerusalem Post. "The Human Rights Council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematical, one-sided and biased approach towards Israel. This latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of such approach," the newspaper quoted the ministry as saying.
Hanan Ashrawi, a top official with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, told Reuters: "This is incredible. We are extremely heartened by this principled and candid assessment of Israeli violations...This report clearly states the Israel is not just violating the 4th Geneva Convention, but places Israel in liability to the Rome Statute under the jurisdiction of the ICC."