Israel's occupation: 'No end in sight', says UN expert

Israel's occupation: 'No end in sight', says UN expert
Interview: Michael Lynk speaks exclusively to The New Arab's Jillian Kestler D'Amours.
4 min read
Israelis celebrate the capture of Jerusalem each year with provocative rallies [Getty]

As hordes of hard-line Israelis celebrated the 50th anniversary of the capture of East Jerusalem earlier this week, the United Nations' human rights expert in the occupied Palestinian territories warned that Israel has no incentive to end its decades-long occupation.

As it stands, Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories has "no end in sight", said Michael Lynk, special papporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories.

"As long as Israel thinks that the costs of giving up a territory are less than the cost of continuing its entrenchment of the occupation, things are not going to change," Lynk told The New Arab.

"It's not in the Israeli government's best interests to give up the occupation when the price of continuing entrenching the occupation is so relatively small."

Lynk's comments came during Donald Trump's first visit to Israel and the West Bank as US president, where he met with Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"I can tell you that the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace," Trump said during the two-day visit this week. "I can tell you also that he [Netanyahu] is reaching for peace. He wants peace."

The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, meanwhile, displayed muted optimism during the president's visit that Trump, who fashions himself a master dealmaker, may be able to make a breakthrough in long-stalled, Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Abbas reportedly told Trump that he was prepared to "begin negotiating immediately" towards a peace agreement.

Occupation is inherently temporary under international law

But only one day after Trump's visit concluded, right-wing Israelis descended on the Old City in Palestinian East Jerusalem for annual "Jerusalem Day" events, and a flag march through the Muslim quarter.

The incendiary event celebrates Israel's 1967 takeover of the eastern half of the city, and its subsequent annexation, a unilateral move that remains unrecognised internationally.

More than 80,000 people participated this year, according to Israeli police.

Palestinians view Jerusalem Day as an arrogant reminder of the start of Israel's occupation, as marchers often shout racist, anti-Palestinian chants. Israeli police force Old City shopkeepers to shutter their stores, and violence and arrests often occur.

"Whether Israel's management of its occupation is in fact illegal under international law," remains an open question, said Lynk, as does how the nature of its occupation should be considered legally.

"Occupation is inherently temporary under international law… The occupier is supposed to be ruling during the occupation in the best interests of the protected people, in this case the Palestinians. None of that is occurring," he explained.

"Where you have an occupation that is not temporary, [and] has many signs of being permanent… what does this mean for the international community?"

Like two of his predecessors, Israel has barred Lynk from having access to the country, and the occupied territories under its control. He was therefore forced to meet Israeli and Palestinian human rights workers in nearby Jordan to gather materials for his most recent report.

This is not the result of an earthquake. This is not the result of a biblical flood. This really is a human-made problem that's going on in Gaza

He said the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip is one of his gravest concerns.

An ongoing shortage of electricity, caused in large part by Israel's repeated bombing of the Strip's main generator, widespread food insecurity, a lack of drinking water, and severe restrictions on the movement of people in and out of the territory - especially for medical reasons - pose the most daunting challenges for Gaza's residents, Lynk explained.

"This is not the result of an earthquake. This is not the result of a biblical flood. This really is a human-made problem that's going on in Gaza, and if anything it's getting worse," he said.

Asked whether the Trump administration might get Israel to end its occupation, Lynk said there were "no early signs that the present American administration would muster that kind of energy and pressure to make Israel give up the occupied territories".

"That said," he quickly added, "I'm happy to be surprised."

Jillian Kestler D'Amours is a journalist based in Canada. Follow her on Twitter: @jkdamours