(UN General Assembly. Bring your own
seat chair. Sit anywhere. Or something.)
Well, hasn't it been an interesting couple of days? If he's achieved nothing else, then PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has put the need for a two-state solution back at the centre of the international agenda for the first time in at least the last 12 months - indeed, with the Arab Spring, it's hard to say that even the Middle East has been focussed on Israeli - Palestinian negotiations in 2011.
I shan't bore you with lots of links to interesting stories: I assume that if you've bothered to read these blog posts, you're probably interested enough in the subject to read a range of views and therefore you hardly need me to drive the point home. And I must stress again that this is an international law blog, rather than a politics blog... which I appreciate may be a fine line to tread, but at base it looks at the legal arguments first, and if it is to make political commentary, to do so second.
So with that out of the way, I was shocked not by Texas Governor Rick Perry's "Likud right or wrong" speech in which Perry accused President Obama of "appeasement", or by Perry's apparent suggestion that that he wanted Jerusalem “united under Israeli rule” (in contravention to US policy and UNSCR 478 (1980)); Perry seems to be a loud-mouth dimwit, even if he is running for the US Presidency.
Altogether more shocking is by US House of Representatives Resolution H Res 112-394 introduced on 8 September by Illinois Republican Joe Walsh (below).
(Annexation? Sure, help yourselves!)
H Res 112-394 enjoys more than 30 co-sponsors, and resolves,
"That the House of Representatives firmly supports Israel’s right to annex Judea and Samaria in the event that the Palestinian Authority continues to press for unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations."
Supports annexation? Excuse me? And as an implict punshiment for the PA pressing for "unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations"? Pardon? Really?! Really?!?
So let's look at the legal issues. All of this, it must be recalled is in territory captured by the Israeli Defence Force in the 1967 Six Day War, and subsequently occupied. Therefore, the controlling law remains the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) (GCIV), which is binding on all states - including Israel.
The UN Charter, in outlawing aggressive wars in Article 2(4), made the acquisition of territory through conquest illegal for the first time in human history. Since 1945, therefore, annexation has also been illegal.*
In Geneva Convention Law, GCIV Article 47 forbids the removal of the population's rights under the Geneva Conventions by "any annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory", making annexation not just illegal under the UN Charter, but also making any attempt to implement this illegal policy a crime under Geneva Law, too.
GCIV Article 49 deals with expulsions, evacuations and population transfers in its six paragraphs. It is illegal to permanently move a populations out of their occupied territory, though there are specific rules about evacuation for protection, e.g. in the case of continuing military operations. These evacuations must be temporary, and abide by international safeguards.
(On a tangent, reading Article 49 can be slightly confusing, in that the first five deal with the protection of the population under occupation, and the sixth paragraph prohibits an occupying power from transferring their population into the conquered territory; it is a Art 49(6) that makes all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights (and prior to 2005, Gaza) unambiguously illegal under international law.** This nearly led Art 49(6) to become its own article in GCIV, but in the drafting conference, it stayed where it is.)
Annexation as a collective punishment.
Any annexation of the West Bank would, on the basis of Israeli policy in the area of East Jerusalem that the Israeli Government claims to have annexed, (and which no-one else in the international community accepts, hence the reason that Embassies in Israel are in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem), be deprived of significant civil and political rights. This amounts to a form of collective punishment, which GCIV Article 33 expressly prohibits, demanding that "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed."
So has Joe Walsh incited war crimes?
Incite: to stir, encourage, or urge on; stimulate or prompt to action: to incite a crowd to riot (Courtesy of Dictionary.com)
It is clear that any Israeli annexation would be unambiguously illegal, and in (i) wrongly asserting that annexation is a "right" of the Israeli state, and (ii) to link this illegal action to an illegal collective punishment, it is arguable that Representative Walsh and his colleagues are indeed inciting such - illegal - action. The question is, would this amount to what the Geneva Convention would describe as "grave breaches"? I'm not sure, and will ask some experts.
However, if it does - and both ICTR and ICTY jurisprudence has cases on incitement - arguably Congressman Walsh and his con-sponsors should be subject to action by the US Government under its obligations laid out in Common Article I of the Geneva Conventions, which requires, "The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances."
Perhaps someone may want to tell the Congressman....
* Only the Indian annexation of the Portugese colony of Goa being broadly recognised by the international community, and with the understanding that this was in effect decolonisation.
** In a tragic irony, the first paragraph of the Art 49(6) ICRC commentary explains the historical background, and why Art 49(6) was included in the first place:
"This clause was adopted after some hesitation, by the XVIIth International Red Cross Conference (13). It is intended to prevent a practice adopted during the Second World War by certain Powers, which transferred portions of their own population to occupied territory for political and racial reasons or in order, as they claimed, to colonize those territories. Such transfers worsened the economic situation of the native population and endangered their separate existence as a race."
In other words, Art 49(6) was a direct repudiation of Hitler's policy of Lebensraum settling Germans and ethnic Germans across central and eastern Europe.