Statement: US Ambassador, David Friedman on Israel’s “Right” to Annex Parts of the West Bank amounts to Incitement to Engage in Manifest Violations of International Law

Wednesday, 12 June 2019 14:41 Date: 12 June 2019

The United States’ (US) Ambassador to Israel, Mr. David Friedman, stated in a New York Times interview on 8 June 2019 that Israel is entitled to "retain” or annex parts of the West Bank, in direct contradiction to international law.[1] Mr. Friedman directly stated, “under certain circumstances … Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank”.

Al-Haq strongly condemns the comments made by Mr. Friedman in the interview as amounting to incitement for Israel to engage in manifest violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). As a starting point, any discourse on the OPT must be premised on principles of international law and the universality of human rights, including Palestinians’ absolute, inalienable right to self-determination. Critically, the annexation of territory is absolutely prohibited under Article 2(4) the Charter of the United Nations (UN). In addition, numerous UN General Assembly resolutions have clearly and unequivocally rejected the annexation and acquisition of territory through use of force.[2] Annexation is specifically prohibited during occupation under Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and amounts to a criminal act of aggression under Article 8bis of the Rome Statute. Nonetheless, Mr. Friedman encourages Israel to commit flagrant violations of international law, in full contempt of Palestinian’s inalienable and non-negotiable human rights.

The US Ambassador’s alleged claim that Israel could have a right to “retain” some of the West Bank ignores the consistent international recognition that prohibitions against annexation apply to the OPT. UN Security Council Resolution 242, adopted in 1967, emphasizes “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and affirms that fulfilling the UN Charter requires Israel to withdraw its troops from territory it occupied during the 1967 war. Despite this, Israel has maintained and deepened its occupation and colonisation of Palestinian territory, establishing over 250 settlements in the West Bank including Jerusalem. Israel’s ongoing policy of, and support for, civilian settlement in the West Bank constitutes a war crime under Article 8(2) the Rome Statute. The latter states that the transfer of civilian populations into occupied territory is a war crime, when committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.[3] The US Ambassador’s comments flagrantly disregard Palestinian sovereignty. Al-Haq calls on the US to clarify its position on Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank and to confirm whether the Ambassador’s statements represent current US policy, in contravention of international law. In addition, as the US “Peace Plan” lingers, Al-Haq recalls that states, including the US, have a responsibility not to recognise actions which contravene international law, or to render aid or assistance in the maintenance of the unlawful situation, under the law of State responsibility, including annexation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan.[4] States must differentiate between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory in their dealings, and to reinforce the illegality of Israel’s ongoing occupation and settlement policy. Finally, the international obligation of third States goes further, whereby they must take concrete measures and strong action to end Israel’s illegal and prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory. States, including the US, must act in line with their obligations to protect the occupied Palestinian population and to ensure that their fundamental rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled. Under such obligations, Al-Haq calls on the US administration to reject Ambassador Friedman’s comments and reaffirm its rejection of Israel’s illegal settlements, and to actively oppose Israel’s measures and policies designed to ultimately finalise its annexation of the West Bank.

[1] David M. Halbfinger “U.S. Ambassador Says Israel Has Right to Annex Parts of West Bank” New York Times (8 June 2019), available at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/08/world/middleeast/israel-west-bank-david-friedman.html (accessed 10 June 2019).

[2] See, for example, UN General Assembly Resolution 2625, adopted 24 October 1970.

[3] These allegations against Israel are currently being considered as part of an International Criminal Court preliminary examination: see Report on Preliminary Activities (Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, 5 December 2018), available at https://www.icc-cpi.int/Pages/item.aspx?name=181205-rep-otp-PE (accessed 11 June 2019).

[4] UN Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted 23 December 2006.

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