GENEVA – Israel's policy of building settlements in Palestinian territories and destroying Arab homes and farmland is a war crime, a United Nations investigator said Friday.
"Israel has used the current crisis to consolidate its occupation" of Palestinian areas, said Miloon Kothari, the housing expert of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
Yaakov Levy, Israel's ambassador to U.N. offices in Geneva, rejected Kothari's "wild compilation of one-sided accusations."
Kothari, an Indian architect who visited Israel and Palestinian territories earlier this year, told reporters, "The serial and deliberate destruction of homes and property constitutes a war crime under international law."
The building of new Jewish settlements is "incendiary and provocative" and settlers are "free to indulge in violence and confiscate land," he said.
Kothari cited international accords like the Geneva Conventions on warfare, which govern the behavior of occupying powers.
Israel has built more than 100 Jewish settlements — home to about 200,000 Israelis — on land conquered in the 1967 Middle East war and is continuing construction. It claims the territory it seized is disputed, rather than occupied and that the Geneva Conventions do not apply.
"The issue of settlements is a political issue on which Israel and the Palestinians disagree," Levy told The Associated Press. Both sides discussed settlements ahead of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestinians and during later talks in 2000 and 2001, he said.
"We made detailed suggestions on how to solve the issue, but the Palestinians broke off negotiations. The difficulties were caused by a conscious Palestinian decision not to work with us and resort to a policy of violence."
In a 27-page report, Kothari said Israel claimed that settlement expansion was necessary because of "natural" population growth. But while settler numbers have risen by 12 percent a year, the Israeli population has been growing by just 2 percent a year, he said.