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UN expert “deeply troubled” by Israel’s new settlement building

02 March 2020

GENEVA (2 March 2020) – An independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council said Israel’s recent announcement that it planned to build more than 8,000 settlement housing units in the occupied Palestinian territory amounts to “a significant breach of international law that must be meaningfully opposed by the international community”.

“I am deeply troubled by this highly disturbing development,” said Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. “This dramatic increase in new housing units in the illegal Israeli settlements not only ensures that a two-state solution has become a vanishing mirage, but it also consolidates the territorial basis for Israel, the occupying power, to make a sovereign claim to annex the settlements.

“Annexation violates the Charter of the United Nations, and these trends on the ground will only worsen the human rights and humanitarian crisis in the conflict.”

Israel announced last Wednesday that it plans to build 3,500 housing units in the E1 area east of Jerusalem, which would link the city to the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Building settlements in the E1 area would effectively cut the territorial continuity between the northern and southern West Bank in two.

Israel also announced plans to build 3,000 housing units in the illegal Israeli settlement of Givat Hamatos in East Jerusalem. This would sever the remaining territorial continuity between Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In addition, last Thursday, the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration approved 12 plans in 11 settlements, involving 1,739 housing units, most of which will be located deep in the West Bank.

The UN expert has previously criticised other plans to expand settlements and has shared these concerns with the Israeli Government.

“All Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law,” the Special Rapporteur said. “The Security Council in December 2016 stated that they constitute a ‘flagrant violation under international law’. Building more settlement units not only makes the fading possibility of realizing Palestinian self-determination more remote than ever, but it also amounts to a purported war crime under the 1998 Rome Statute.”

The Special Rapporteur also criticised a recent meeting of the US-Israeli joint mapping committee, designed to determine which parts of the Palestinian West Bank will be formally annexed by Israel under the terms of the Trump plan, released in January 2020.

“The work of this mapping committee is entirely unlawful under our international rules-based order,” Lynk said. “Annexation has been outlawed by the international community since 1945 because it instigates political instability, social suffering and economic hardship. The United States Government’s participation in this mapping exercise violates its solemn obligations to uphold international law and to cooperate with other states to isolate perpetrators of illegal acts.”

The Special Rapporteur urged the international community to take meaningful steps to oppose the ongoing settlement expansion and the anticipatory steps towards annexation. “More declarations of regret and concern by countries and organizations with the power to make a difference in this perpetual occupation will not suffice. Criticism without consequences guarantees that settlement expansion and annexation will continue,” he said.

“I call upon the international community to review its extensive menu of sanctions and countermeasures to stem this march towards further illegality. Settlement products should not enter the international marketplace. Agreements, existing and proposed, with Israel should be reviewed. The current investigations at the International Criminal Court should be supported.

“There has to be a cost to the defiance of international law,” the Special Rapporteur said.


Mr. Michael Lynk was designated by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the then UN Commission on Human Rights. Professor Lynk is Associate Professor of Law at Western University in London, Ontario, where he teaches labour law, constitutional law and human rights law. Before becoming an academic, he practiced labour law and refugee law for a decade in Ottawa and Toronto. He also worked for the United Nations on human rights and refugee issues in Jerusalem. 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel  

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