EU leads UN condemnation of Israeli settlements


The United Nations has urged Israel to start dismantling Jewish settlements in the occupied territories because they violated international law and were a major obstacle to peace.

In a separate vote, the 53-state Commission on Human Rights also "strongly condemned" Israel's military occupation as "an aggression and an offence against humanity and a flagrant violation of human rights".

The resolution on Israeli settlements, proposed as in past years by the European Union, also attacked lengthy curfews imposed in West Bank cities as well as the building of a security wall around Israel.

This time the EU went beyond past calls to "reverse" the settlement policy and urged "a first step towards their dismantlement" by immediately halting "the expansion of existing settlements, including natural growth".

Israel, which does not sit on the Commission, and its ally the United States, which does, attacked both resolutions as biased, saying they failed to condemn in sufficiently strong terms the "terrorist" threat faced by the Jewish state. The text rejected "all acts of violence, including indiscriminate terrorist attacks killing and injuring civilians".

But the United States objected to the word "indiscriminate", saying that no terrorist attack was acceptable. The United States, which is preparing to launch a "road map" for Middle East peace to include a freeze on Israeli settlements, was the only commission member to oppose the EU call.

Costa Rica and Australia abstained. The Middle East is always a source of tension at the annual six-week meeting of the commission. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the only issue to be given its own special space on the agenda.Today's resolution on the general situation in the occupied territories was backed by 33 countries with 15 abstaining and five against.

It expressed "grave the gross violation of human rights and international humanitarian law, in particular, acts of extrajudicial killing, closures, collective punishments, the persistence of establishing settlements".

Most EU states on the commission abstained, with the exception of Germany which traditionally backs Israel in the vote on its overall record.

"The text is completely one-sided and politicised. It is replete with completely unsubstantiated accusations...thus rendering this resolution meaningless," Israeli ambassador Yaakov Levy said in an address to the commission.

Speaking for the EU, Greek ambassador Tassos Krirkoukis said Israel had failed to heed the call of the international community to rein in the settlers. "The settlements are both illegal under international law and constitute a major obstacle to peace," he said.

For Israel the settlements are something to negotiate as part of an overall peace deal and not a problem for the UN Human Rights Commission.

But the Palestinian representative countered that something that was a violation of international law could not become a bargaining chip in any negotiation.