Retroactively Legalizing Illegal Settlements: What’s the ‘Greater Jerusalem’ Bill?
With Israeli settlement expansion continuing unabated in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Israeli Knesset’s ministerial committee was scheduled to approve a bill referred to as the “Greater Jerusalem Bill.” The Bill represents a legislative effort by the Knesset to institutionalize the settlement enterprise and to ensure a “Jewish majority” in the city. After international recriminations, the Bill was postponed indefinitely; however, Israeli settlements remain at the core of many human rights violations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Bill contravenes international humanitarian law and violates basic rights of Palestinians.
The Bill would expand Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries to four major illegal settlements: Givat Ze’ev, Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beital Illit, abd Ma’ale Adumim. Concurrently, it would create “independent municipalities” for 100,000 Palestinians in several Jerusalem neighborhoods cut off from the city by Israel’s separation wall. The Bill is inconsistent with the legal position of the international community, which is that the settlements are illegal. Israel has been pursing such strategy since 1967, when it occupied the West Bank and Gaza, annexed East Jerusalem and declared it as the capital of Israel. The overwhelming international legal consensus is that Israel’s rule of East Jerusalem is a military occupation.
The Bill contradicts specific provisions of the Convention, which concern occupied territories. Under international law, an occupying power is supposed to be a temporary trustee; however, the Bill constitutes a long-term change in the designation of the land. In the same manner, the Bill, enacted by the Knesset, would introduce civilian laws to the occupied territory, while international law prohibits any change in the legal status of the occupied territory (Article 43 and 55 of the Fourth Hague Convention). Under international law, an occupying power may not unilaterally annex any occupied territory through conquest; or transfer its population to the territory it occupies (Article 49 Geneva Convention IV). In addition, the transfer of population to the occupied territory amounts to a war crime that may lead to an individual responsibility (Article 8 of of the International Criminal Court).
The illegality of the settlements has been reiterated by several UN bodies and international organizations. Security Council resolutions 242, 446, 1435, and 2334 state that the Israeli settlements are unlawful, and call on Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. In the same manner, the General Assembly has adopted hundreds of resolutions confirming the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention, rejecting any Israeli sovereignty over the occupied territories, and rendering settlements illegal therein.
The status of Jerusalem has been considered by the International Court of Justice in a 2004 Advisory Opinion. The Court reaffirmed the illegality of Israel’s separation wall and settlements, holding that Israel was bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Moreover, Israel’s obligation to apply human rights law in the occupied territories has been recognized by the Court and human rights treaty bodies such as the . The Bill would violate the rights of Palestinians to housing, security, freedom of movement, and to water and sanitation.
Israel has previously introduced legislative measures to ease the process of retroactive authorization and legalization of settlements, as set out in successive reports by the Secretary-General. For example, Israel allocates lands and funds for the settlement enterprise, delivers public service to settlers, and encourages economic activities and development. As part of Israel’s latest efforts to evade international obligations, Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed a ‘land regulation’ committee to outline a process, with the involvement of the government, to legalize settlements built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Later, the committee came up with the Levy Report, which stated that the laws of occupation do not apply to the West Bank.
Whether the Bill would be approved in the future or not, today around half-million settlers live in the occupied territory. The systematic institutionalization of the settlements and de-facto annexation of the occupied territories make it impossible to maintain land contiguity and allow for a Palestinian state. Not only it is forbidden to annex an occupied territory and enact civilian rule, but it is also forbidden to change in the designation of the land. By changing the legal normative framework, Israel is trying to quell any sense of moral and legal obligation towards the Palestinians and remove any legal obstacle to the continuation of the settlements.