Illustration: Andrew Dyson
International law does not allow acquiring land through the use of force. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits Israel, as an occupying power, from directly or indirectly transferring its citizens into occupied Palestinian territory. The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that Israel's settlement policy violates that convention. The Rome statute of the International Criminal Court makes Israel's illegal settlement policy a war crime.
But Australia's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, wants to reinvent international law and call Israeli settlements legal. Or what else was Bishop trying to accomplish by showing her support to Israeli settlements?
Authorities must respect the commitments of their countries before the international community. Australia has thus far been a responsible member of that community. It ratified the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Rome statute and various other human rights conventions that Israel systemically violates by occupying Palestine.
If Bishop wanted to show solidarity with an occupation that harms the rights of an occupied population, she did well. I would be unsurprised if her next step was a cup of coffee with her Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, in the illegal settlement of Nokdim, where he lives, in land stolen from Bethlehem.
If Bishop wanted to make Australia a stronger voice within the international community, she certainly did wrong. The latest votes in the United Nations show that Australia, Canada and the US, joined by Micronesia, Tuvalu and Marshall Islands, are the only countries that would not favour a resolution declaring settlements illegal. Regardless of the vote, Australia is now the only country, other than Israel, to state publicly that settlements are not illegal. Bishop's statement came 15 days after the European Union began to apply its guidelines on Israeli settlements, preventing those colonies in occupied Palestinian land from benefiting from EU-Israeli relations.
If Bishop wanted to enhance Australia's international standing, she did wrong. International civil society organisations, including those in Australia, continue to advance campaigns to disinvest from the Israeli occupation, something we Palestinians fully support and encourage. At a time when companies, churches and other organisations around the world are disengaging from the Israeli occupation, Australia is engaging with this illegal enterprise.
If Bishop wanted to support the negotiations process, she did the opposite. It is precisely due to Israeli settlement expansion that most of the Arab world doubts that negotiations will succeed. The terms of reference for negotiations do not include legitimising illegal Israeli settlements, but ending the Israeli occupation that began in 1967. As the International Court of Justice has ruled, the Israeli settlement regime - including the wall that de facto annexes most of the settlements to Israel - denies the Palestinian people its inalienable right to self-determination. Let me be very clear: there is no room for a two-state solution in the presence of Israeli settlements.
The same day that Bishop made her comment, Israeli settlers burnt a mosque near Salfit. In occupied Palestine, Palestinians continue to be denied their right to access their churches and mosques, their land and natural resources, their schools, hospitals and places of work due to the Israeli settlement enterprise. Thousands of families have been divided, been evicted, had their land confiscated or houses demolished under policies that Australian diplomats continue to report back to Canberra, all of which are part of Israel's settlement enterprise.
Israeli settlements are not leading to a two-state solution but to a two-system, one-state reality, where a minority of Israeli Jews control the lives of a majority of Palestinian Christians and Muslims. One wonders how Bishop will explain her statement to the thousands of Australian-Palestinians who have been personally affected by Israel's colonisation policies. She can be assured that the victims of that colonisation, the residents of Bil'in, Sheikh Jarrah, Khirbet Makhoul, Silwan, Hebron, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Nablus, Salfit, Huwara and countless other Palestinian cities and villages, are wondering when the international community will muster the determination to end Israel's impunity and give peace a chance. The answer, clearly, won't come from those who support apartheid over peace.
Dr Saeb Erekat is Palestine's main negotiator and a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's executive committee.