A U.N. special investigator on Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories says the level of violence has dropped substantially since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met for peace talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt early last month. The investigator, John Dugard, has just presented his report to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
U.N. investigator John Dugard says Israel has taken a number of steps to improve the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. These include the release of 500 prisoners, the end of targeted killings of Palestinian militants and punitive house demolitions. He says Israel also has removed some checkpoints in the West Bank and revised the course of the barrier to intrude less upon Palestinian land.
However, Mr. Dugard says these changes fail to address the main violations of human rights in the occupied territories. He says Israel has not frozen the growth of settlements as it has promised. Indeed, he says existing settlements have been expanded and new ones built.
He also criticizes the wall or barrier, saying it has resulted in major human rights violations for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Israel began building the West Bank barrier two years ago, saying it was needed to keep out Palestinian attackers. Palestinians say the structure, which enters the West Bank, is an attempt by Israel to impose a border without waiting for a peace deal.
"These restrictions of movement drastically affect their access to hospitals, to schools, clinics and to work,” he said. “The very fabric of life for over half a million Palestinians has been destroyed in the interests ultimately of settlements. Israel claims that the wall is a security measure. Had it followed the green line, this would have been a plausible argument. But the manner in which the wall has been built to enclose settlements and fertile land leads inevitably to a more sinister conclusion."
Mr. Dugard praises Israel for what he calls its brave decision to leave the Gaza Strip. But, he warns Israel will forfeit an opportunity for peace if it does not resolve the problems arising from the settlements, barrier and checkpoints.
Israel's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Itzhak Levanon, gives unusual praise to the U.N. investigator for having included in his report a number of new and positive steps taken by Israel in regard to the territories. He says he is particularly pleased that the Rapporteur, Mr. Dugard, recognizes that the Palestinian side, as well as Israel, has obligations and responsibilities.
"The Rapporteur makes reference to violations on both sides and includes his clearest call yet for concerted action by the Palestinian leadership against terrorism,” said Mr. Levanon. “But this recognition by the Rapporteur that there are obligations on the Palestinian side only serves to undermine the problematic nature of the Rapporteur's mandate, which only authorizes the Rapporteur to consider violations on the Israeli side of the equation."
The Israeli ambassador calls Mr. Dugard's criticism of Israel's anti-terrorism measures inaccurate.
A Palestinian representative says the Palestinians have taken steps that have created a positive environment for peace. He urges Israel to seize this opportunity.