U.N. Human Rights Council says Israel West Bank settlement plans amount to war crimes

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk on Friday said "Israel's actions against the Palestinian population must cease immediately" as the commission released a report saying its plans to expand settlements in the West Bank amount to war crimes. File Photo by UPI

March 8 (UPI) -- The United Nations Human Rights Chief Volker Turk criticized Israel on Friday for announcing this week that it will build 3,426 new settlement homes in the West Bank, charging the increase will increase harm to Palestinians living there.

Turk said the settlement plans marked a clear escalation of pushing new Israeli homes into Palestinian land against international law and increased patterns of oppression, violence, and discrimination against them.

"Israel's actions against the Palestinian population must cease immediately," Turk said in a statement. "The only way forward is to find a viable political solution that finally ends the occupation, establishes an independent Palestinian state and guarantees the realization of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people."

The Human Rights Council on Friday released a report saying that the expansion of settlements "amount to the transfer by Israel of its own civilian population into the territories that it occupies, which amounts to a war crime under international law."

The report said that about 24,300 housing units in existing Israeli settlements, including 9,670 in East Jerusalem were advanced from Nov. 1, 2022, through Oct. 31, 2023, which was the most on record since 2017 when the process began being monitored.

It further said that the Israeli government's goals appeared aligned "to an unprecedented extent" with the Israeli settler movement which it said aims to expand long-term control over the West Bank and "to steadily integrate this occupied territory into the State of Israel."

"They also run counter to the views of a broad range of states aid out during hearings just two weeks ago at the International Court of Justice," Turk said in reference to proceedings examining Israel's occupation of Gaza.

Earlier this week, Israel said it will build 2,402 homes will be built in Ma'ale Adumim, another 694 in Efrat, and 330 homes in Keidar. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich suggested that the new settlements were an" appropriate Zionist response" to a terrorist attack there last month that killed one and injured 11.

In that incident, three gunmen opened fire on cars lined up at a checkpoint outside of Jerusalem last month in the West Bank.

"The enemies try to harm and weaken us but we will continue to build and be built up on this island," Smotrich said on social media, according to The Times of Israel.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the settlements will do more the increase tensions and conflict in the West Bank.

"Settlements continue to be a barrier to peace," Miller said on Wednesday. "These settlements continue to be inconsistent with international law.

"And, so the point that we will make to the government of Israel is that these settlements don't just harm the Palestinian people, but that they ultimately weaken Israel's security and weaken the prospects for a lasting agreement that would provide real peace and real security for the Israeli people."

The U.N. report noted that there have been 603 settler attacks against Palestinians since the Oct. 7, Hamas attack on Israel that sparked the ongoing war in Gaza while 1,222 Palestinians from 19 herding communities have been displaced "as a direct result of settler violence."

"The West Bank is already in crisis. Yet, settler violence and settlement-related violations have reached shocking new levels, and risk eliminating any practical possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian State," said Turk.