Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention is the most cited legal provision invoked by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the UN and quasi-judicial bodies to declare illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The language of the article, which states that an “occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” is also broadly interpreted by these same actors to criminalize Israel’s building of roads, transportation systems, water infrastructure; carrying out any business activities and restoring cultural and historical sites across the 1949 armistice lines. Numerous provisions of the 1907 Hague Convention, the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and international human rights law contradict these claims. Every domestic court that has looked at this issue has rejected these claims.[PDF]
NGOs have also used their interpretation of 49(6) to underpin boycott campaigns, sanctions and other punitive measures against Israel, including lobbying the International Criminal Court (ICC). Indeed, Arab states pushed for amendments to the 1998 Rome Statute, ostensibly based on Article 49(6), in order to specifically target Israeli settlements at the ICC. Powerful NGOs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, FIDH and many others have issued hundreds of statements and publications, in parallel to media campaigns, invoking 49(6) to declare Israel a prime violator of international law and to advocate for ICC prosecution of Israeli officials.
In contrast to the dominant legal narrative promoted by NGOs and UN and European officials, the precise meaning and the specific prohibitions of Article 49(6) are far from clear. A new research paper, “Unsettled: A Global Study of Settlements in Occupied Territory,” [PDF] by Northwestern University School of Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich, comprehensively examines settlement activity and uses this information to determine the actual contours of Article 49(6). His paper also provides another example of how international law is often applied uniquely to Israel.