News that a billionaire businessman from the United Arab Emirates has offered to pay $56 million for evacuated Israeli settlements in the occupied Gaza Strip is deeply disturbing. The BBC, quoting Israeli media sources, reported that the businessman, Mohammad al-Abbar, chairman of the Dubai-based, Emaar development company met with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, to discuss the plan.
According to reports, Palestinian Authority leaders are not only aware of these dealings, but are facilitating and encouraging them. Such policies, if indeed they are being pursued, mark a new low, and indicate either total ignorance or wilful disregard of basic Palestinian rights and international law.
The settlements in Gaza that Israel promises to evacuate (while at the same time continuing to build other settlements all over the West Bank) were built illegally on occupied Palestinian land in flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and numerous UN Security Council resolutions.
In Resolution 446 of 1979, for example, the Security Council determined that “that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity,” and called upon Israel, “as the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, to rescind its previous measures and to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and, in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories.”
In its July 2004 ruling that Israel’s wall and colonies in the occupied territories are illegal and must be removed, the International Court of Justice in the Hague ordered Israel to compensate Palestinians for the damage that its violations have caused. For decades, Israel has ignored binding UN resolutions with total impunity and the quiet acquiescence of the United States, and increasingly, the European Union.
If Israel has recently reached the inevitable conclusion that its occupation and colonization of the Gaza Strip is unsustainable and has decided as a result to evacuate its settlements, this is nothing more than a small, long overdue correction of decades of unpunished criminality. And, since Israel continues to build settlements everywhere in the West Bank, it cannot even be taken on good faith that Israel has any intention to comply with international law. Israel is doing only what suits Israel and nothing more.
In any case, Israel is, under international law, liable to pay compensation to the victims of its settlement policies and the killing and destruction they necessitated, as well as compensating Palestinians for 38 years in which they were deprived of their freedom and use of their property so that fanatic settlers could enjoy luxury beachfront living at amazing prices (free, because the land was stolen from Palestinians!)
The Palestinians would be gracious if they agreed to consider the left-behind settlements as part of the required compensation which should be properly assessed and calculated. Offering the Israelis compensation for what their aggression and exploitation of the land and people has left behind is as outrageous as offering a common thief compensation for returning stolen property, as well as offering him the expenses for the petrol, tools and clothing he used to commit his crime.
The United States has always supported claims by Jews demanding compensation for any loss of property that occurred during decades of persecution in European countries. And in recent years, claims for the return of bank accounts, insurance policies, art work, real estate and other kinds of property have reaped billions. No kind of property has been deemed too small, or its loss too distant. Jewish groups have also been increasingly vocal about claiming property of Jews who left for Palestine, or were expelled from Arab countries after Israel was created. There is no question that the owners of these rights are entitled to pursue them, but Palestinians are entitled to the same rights and to the same support. Any right, however, needs someone to pursue it. What hope do Palestinians have if their leadership not only abandons its people’s rights, but becomes an advocate to offer their people’s oppressors “compensation” for the cost of the oppression?
Since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem began in 1967, it has been creating facts on the ground continuously. Everywhere Israel managed to occupy, it exploited the land ruthlessly. In Lebanon,\ it took water and even carted off the fertile topsoil in trucks. In Sinai, it stole oil. In the Golan Heights it exploits the land and water to grow wine which it then sells around the world as “Israeli.” In the West Bank it has pillaged and destroyed the natural landscape, destroyed farmland and wasted the water — while Palestinians go thirsty, highly-subsidized Israeli farmers export water-laden peppers and tomatoes overseas. The exploitation has perhaps been worst in Gaza. Everywhere it went, Israel treated the land and resources as if it owned them, and totally disregarded the rights of the indigenous population. For this, the Israelis expect compensation?
When the Israelis were required to leave Sinai, as a result of the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, which imposed harsh terms on the Egyptians, Israel chose to destroy the settlements which were built there rather than leave them to Egypt. Israel did not compensate Egypt for the use of Sinai and its resources. That was wrong and legally incorrect, as a precedent. What was correct is the removal of the settlements, and that was a positive precedent. The other positive precedent is that Israel had to leave every grain of sand of Egyptian territory, although Taba was not returned until after ten more years of intense international struggle.
These precedents should be repeated when agreement would be possible on the Palestinian and the Syrian sides. Instead of the vague formulas which, so far have been intended to create a false feeling that there were agreements, or movements towards agreements, there should be a plan to end the occupation in the same way as the occupation of Egyptian land was ended. There should be removal of all the settlements in the same manner as the settlements built on Egyptian territory were removed. If the Palestinians agree to allow any of the colonial infrastructure to remain in place for the use of Palestinians, Israel should obtain no benefit from that, and should still pay compensation to the original landowners.
Under no circumstances should the occupiers be rewarded for their aggression. If the foolish scheme in Gaza goes ahead we should not be surprised if before long Israel is stealing land and building settlements solely in order to sell them to ill-advised tycoons.
Ambassador Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations.