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Jimmy Carter Administration: U.S. Position on Settlements

(March 23, 1976)

In March 1976 there were a number of violations of the peace in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank. The IDF, the Border Police and the Israel Police were called out to restore order and to quell the demonstrations and disturbances. These events were the subject of a Security Council discussion in which Ambassador Scranton of the U.S. reiterated his government's position on the Israeli settlements. The U.S. felt that continued settlement represented “an obstacle to the success of negotiations for a just and final peace between Israel and its neighbours."

... For the events that have brought us together today are a corollary and a consequence of the tragic dispute that has occupied this Council with such regularity over the years. As such, they raise two categories of issues that we must have in mind if we are to deal with them constructively.

First is the question of bringing to an early end the situation that gives rise to these disturbances and to other forms of violence in the Middle East. So long as the situation persists we can expect continuing tension and occasional violence, however we might, and we must, regret it. It is not necessary for me to belabor this point. Surely it is evident to all of us.

The occupation of territories in the 1967 war has always been seen by the world community to be an abnormal state of affairs that would be brought to an end as part of a peace settlement. Resolution 242, adopted by this Council shortly after the end of the 1967 war that led to the occupation, established the basic bargain that would constitute a settlement. This bargain was withdrawal of Israeli forces in return for termination of all claims or states of belligerency, and respect for, and acknowledgment of, the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats of acts of force.

My government has committed itself to do all it can to bring about this settlement and, in the words of Resolution 338, to implement Council Resolution 242 in all of its parts and to further negotiations between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East, which is what we are here for. We are engaged at this moment in an effort to regain momentum, as all of you know, in the negotiating process that has brought some unusual progress - and it must bring more.

The second focus of our consideration must be the conduct of the occupation itself. In asking for this meeting, the letter of complaint circulated by the Permanent Representatives of the Libyan Arab Republic and of Pakistan identifies three issues:

- The administration of the holy sites;

- The situation in Jerusalem; and

- Israeli actions in regard to the civilian population of the occupied territories and the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

The position of the United States on these issues is clear and of long standing. I propose to review the U.S. position today once more to point out that there are proper principles and there are procedures under international law and practice which, when applied and maintained, will contribute to civil order and will, over the longer run, facilitate a just and a lasting peace.

First, there is a matter of the holy sites and practice of religion in the occupied areas. The deep religious attachment of Moslems and Jews and Christians to the holy places of Jerusalem has added a uniquely volatile element to the tensions that inhere in a occupation situation. The area known to Moslems as the Haram a-Sherif and to Jews as the Temple Mount is of particular sensitivity. Israel's punctilious administration of the holy places in Jerusalem has, in our judgment, greatly minimized the tensions. To my government, the standard to be followed in administrating the holy sites is contained in article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. All parties to the Arab-Israel conflict are signatories of the convention. Article 27 of the convention prescribes, inter alia, that Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs.

With regard to the immediate problem before us - a ruling by a lower Israeli court which would have the effect of altering the status of the Haram - it is our view that Israel's responsibilities under article 27 to preserve religious practices as they were at the time the occupation began cannot be changed by the ruling of an Israeli court. We are gratified, deeply gratified, that the Supreme Court of Israel has upheld the Israeli Government's position.

The status of the holy places is, of course, only one facet, however important, very important, of the problem of the status of Jerusalem itself. The U.S. position on the status of Jerusalem has been stated here on numerous occasions since the Arab portion of that city was occupied by Israel in 1967.

Ambassador Yost said in 1969:

... The part of Jerusalem that came under the control of Israel in the June war, like other areas occupied by Israel, is occupied territory and hence subject to the provisions of international law governing the rights and obligations of an occupying power.

Ambassador Goldberg said in 1968, to this Council:

The United States does not accept or recognize unilateral actions by any states in the area as altering the status of Jerusalem.

I emphasize, as did Ambassador Goldberg, that as far as the United States is concerned such unilateral measures, including expropriation of land or other administrative action taken by the Government of Israel, cannot be considered other than interim and provisional and cannot affect the present international status nor prejudge the final and permanent status of Jerusalem. The U.S. position could not be clearer. Since 1967 we have restated here, in other fora, and to the Government of Israel that the future of Jerusalem will be determined only through the instruments and processes of negotiation, agreement, and accommodation. Unilateral attempts to predetermine that future have no standing.

Next I return to the question of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Again, my government believes that international law sets the appropriate standards. An occupier must maintain the occupied area as intact and unaltered as possible, without interfering with the customary life of the area, and any changes must be necessitated by the immediate needs of the occupation and be consistent with international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention speaks directly to the issue of population transfer in article 49:

The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

Clearly, then, substantial resettlement of the Israeli civilian population in occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under the convention and cannot be considered to have prejudged the outcome of future negotiations between the parties on the location of the borders of states of the Middle East. Indeed, the presence of these settlements is seen by my government as an obstacle to the success of the negotiations for a just and final peace between Israel and its neighbors.

The real issues of peace and stability in the Middle East are very difficult indeed. And unilateral acts, such as civilian population transfers, have been taken which serve to inflame emotions on both sides. Mr. President, I welcome the opportunity - indeed I do - this meeting of the Council

has provided to review the issues involved in the administration of the holy sites, the status of Jerusalem, and in addition, the question of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Now, as to prospective action by this Council, my government will apply three tests:

- First, do the facts and judgement on which the resolution is based correspond to the actual situation? Facts.

- Second, will the Council's action in practice advance the proper administration of the areas involved?

- And most important of all, will the Council's action help or hinder the peaceful settlement process, the framework for which was established by Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338?

Sources: Public Papers of the President