6. The developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, since the submission of the Committee’s annual report to the General Assembly have remained a cause for great concern. In the Gaza Strip, the humanitarian situation has been steadily worsening, exacerbated by the ongoing Israeli military offensive that began in December 2008. The continuing Israeli blockade of Gaza has prevented the long overdue reconstruction and rehabilitation work and it continues to obstruct the movement of persons and goods, including the flow of humanitarian aid, essential supplies and commercial trade, preventing economic recovery and increasing the already-high levels of poverty and unemployment. In the West Bank, illegal settlement construction has continued, and Israeli incursions into Palestinian towns and villages and arrests of Palestinians have been an almost daily occurrence. Violent actions by radical Israeli settlers against the Palestinian civilian population have been of great concern. Equally disturbing have been intensifying illegal Israeli actions in East Jerusalem, including land confiscations, house demolitions and evictions of Palestinian residents. Such unlawful and provocative developments were counterproductive and precluded any progress in the political process. Ongoing efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation and unite the West Bank and the Gaza Strip under the Palestinian Authority have thus far been ineffectual.
7. The Committee maintains that all settlement construction, including the so-called “natural growth”, is illegal and must be halted immediately. All outposts must be dismantled. It is recognized by all, with the exception of Israel, the occupying Power, that settlements in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law, that they violate numerous relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly, and that they contravene Israel’s obligations under the road map. Moreover, the settlements fuel tensions, perpetuate conflict, lead to violence and undermine efforts at establishing a contiguous, viable, independent State of Palestine that will live in peace and security with Israel on the basis of the pre-1967 borders. The international community does not recognize Israel’s unilateral claims to the entire city of Jerusalem. East Jerusalem remains an integral part of the Palestinian Territory occupied by Israel since 1967. All actions taken by Israel that alter or purport to alter the demographic composition, character and status of the city are null and void and illegal under international law. The status of the Holy City is clearly and unequivocally outlined in many resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly and Israel must abide by them. The continuation of these policies by the Israeli Government has prevented any tangible improvements of the situation in the Occupied Territory, casting serious doubts on the real intentions of the Israeli leadership as regards its stated interest in the resumption of negotiations for the achievement of a peace settlement.
8. The Committee has welcomed and commended the work of the various fact-finding missions into the ongoing war in Gaza that began in December 2008 and supported the numerous calls for accountability and justice. In particular, the Committee considered that the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict established by the Human Rights Council and led by Justice Richard Goldstone, had presented a comprehensive, balanced and authoritative account of the events in Gaza. The report concluded that the Israeli military operation was directed, at least in part, at the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip as a whole, in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the population of Gaza. The report concluded that numerous Israeli actions and measures against the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, including deliberate strikes against population centres and homes, the use of lethal munitions such as white phosphorous and the imposition of the blockade in collective punishment of the entire population amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report also covered violations arising from Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, including excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators, increased closures, restriction of movement and house demolitions. The report also concluded that firing rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups, by failing to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population, constituted war crimes and might amount to crimes against humanity.
9. With its report, the Fact-Finding Mission submitted ample and unbiased evidence that both Israel, the occupying Power, and Palestinian armed groups had committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the fighting, including some that should be prosecuted as war crimes. The Committee supports the Mission’s pre-eminent recommendation that Israel and the Palestinians conduct impartial investigations and prosecute those found responsible, as called for by the General Assembly in its resolution 64/10. It also supports the Mission’s call for follow-up action by various parties, including the United Nations. Specifically, it supports the idea of requesting the Security Council to create a committee of experts to monitor such investigations. The report challenges the international community to break with past practice and take bold steps to uphold international law in order to protect civilians, promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and achieve peace. It provides the international community with the opportunity to demand, in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the same measure of accountability that is applied in other conflicts. The Committee is of the view that the perpetrators of serious crimes on either side have to be brought to justice and held accountable for their actions. It encourages principled action by the international community aimed at ensuring respect for and adherence to the norms of international humanitarian law. In particular, the Committee appeals to all the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to fulfil their obligations in accordance with common article 1, which requires the High Contracting Parties to respect and ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances.
10. The Committee notes that as a result of these detrimental developments and the continuing Israeli occupation, no progress has been achieved in the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Self-determination, independence and sovereignty have remained elusive for the Palestinian people, as has the right of return for over 4.6 million Palestine refugees. The Committee fully supports the international consensus that the only viable solution to the conflict and the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights is the creation of a Palestinian State in the territory occupied by Israel in 1967, living side by side with Israel in peace and security.
11. To that end, the Committee calls for the resumption of the permanent status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of the relevant United Nations resolutions, the Madrid terms of reference, including the principle of land for peace, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet road map. This would require a genuine commitment of the Israeli Government to the two-State solution, buttressed by appreciable improvements of the situation on the ground, first and foremost, by stopping all settlement activities. The continued support by the international community is crucial for moving forward the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on all permanent status issues. The Committee will, therefore, support all peace initiatives that have as their main objective the realization of the two-State solution.
12. The Committee remains strongly opposed to the illegal construction of the wall in the West Bank, including in and around East Jerusalem, and finds this activity incompatible with negotiations on the permanent settlement. In this regard, the Committee calls for full respect of the 9 July 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and the relevant United Nations resolutions. The Committee is also of the view that Israel must release, immediately and unconditionally, all Palestinian prisoners, including children, women and imprisoned members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. The Committee also stresses the need for Israel, the occupying Power, to cease all measures of collective punishment of the Palestinian people, which it has been imposing in direct contravention of international law.
13. The Committee’s position is that the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory must end without conditions, which should allow the Palestinian people to establish an independent State on all territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and to exercise their inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination. The Committee is of the view that the two-State solution should be based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003) and 1850 (2008). It is convinced that only serious and sustained international engagement will bring about a peaceful and negotiated settlement of all outstanding issues and reverse the growing support for radical forces that promote violent and unilateral approaches to ending the conflict, for which there is no military solution. The Committee remains committed to contributing constructively and actively to international efforts aimed at the achievement of a peaceful settlement.
14. The Committee remains concerned that the divisions among Palestinian factions profoundly affect the legitimate Palestinian national interests and aspirations for statehood and peace, and calls for reinvigorated efforts by all concerned parties to help reconcile their positions on the basis of the prevailing consensus on the need to achieve the two-State solution, which would lead to the end of the Israeli occupation and exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights.
15. The Committee is deeply concerned about the humanitarian emergency in the Gaza Strip, which was substantially worsened by the Israeli invasion of a year ago. It is imperative to embark without delay on the process of recovery and reconstruction of the thousands of destroyed and damaged homes, schools and hospitals, and of other vital civilian infrastructure. The isolation of the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinian Territory and from the international community has to be lifted with the regular and sustained opening of crossings for the movement of both persons and goods. Concrete steps must be taken to restore normal economic activity. Israel, the occupying Power, is obliged to create the necessary conditions, including reparations for reconstruction of civil structures destroyed during the war, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1860 (2009). The Committee welcomes the readiness of the international community to contribute to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. The Committee also emphasizes the critical importance of international donor assistance for the functioning of the Palestinian institutions at this time of crisis. It urges the international donor community to continue providing assistance and to address the humanitarian and economic situation in the Gaza Strip as a matter of urgency.
16. The Committee reaffirms that the United Nations should play an active and facilitating role in these efforts and maintain its permanent responsibility with respect to all aspects of the question of Palestine until it is resolved in all its aspects, in conformity with relevant United Nations resolutions and norms of international law. As requested by the General Assembly, the Committee will continue to keep the situation under review and to promote a constructive analysis and discussion of these issues by the international community.