An independent United Nations human rights expert on Wednesday held a press conference and warned that developments in the Middle East region, "particularly in Egypt, have made the situation in Gaza one that is a point of near catastrophe."
Addressing journalists at UN Headquarters, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Richard Falk noted that because of the situation in Egypt, Palestinians now face increased isolation, lack of access to healthcare and other services, and are facing an uncertain future.
In his second main point of his report to the General Assembly's Third Committee, the Special Rapporteur reiterated that the settlements are unlawful according to the Fourth Geneva Convention and pointed out that financial institutions and real estate companies involved with housing settlements in occupied Palestinian territory may be held criminally accountable.
He told reporters that "it was appropriate and essential to implement the unlawfulness by encouraging corporations to withdraw their profit-making activities from the settlements."
He also said that his office has been trying to inform companies, among them the European banking group Dexia and the United States-based real estate company Re/Max, that continuing their practices in the territories could be problematic.
He noted that the Government of the Netherlands has discouraged investments by Dutch companies in or servicing the settlements in the West Bank, and it does not provide assistance to Dutch companies that want to engage in settlement activities.
In this context, the engineering firm Royal HaskoningDH recently terminated a project in East Jerusalem.
Falk also recommended that the General Assembly seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as to the status and general legality of prolonged occupation.
He told reporters that "an occupation that extends beyond five years exceeds what is contemplated by the Fourth Geneva Convention."
He noted that while there were no expectations that Israel would comply with such an advisory opinion, or that it would automatically qualify for enforcement by the UN Security Council, it would be a genuine determination with careful legal reasoning from some of the best legal minds in the world.
Regarding the recently restarted round of negotiations between Israel and the State of Palestine, Falk said that Palestine had made significant concessions by deferring the issue of settlement until final status negotiations take place.
He said settlements "have more than doubled in population and are continuing to expand at an accelerated rate; and this is coupled with the demographic manipulations in the populations of East Jerusalem that makes it less viable."
It was his view, he said, that "Palestinians pay a big price for the resumption."
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.