A United Nations fact-finding mission has called on Israel to halt the establishment of settlements in occupied Palestinian territory developed for the exclusive benefit of Israeli Jews.
"In compliance with Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Israel must cease all settlement activities without preconditions," said Christine Chanet, chair of the mission from France.
The International Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory on Wednesday published a draft of its report to be discussed at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 18.
Israel refused to co-operate with the investigators from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' office over the report and it barred their access to the West Bank.
Israel's foreign ministry said in a statement, "The only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the settlements issue, is through direct negotiations without pre-conditions.
"The Human Rights Council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel. This latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of that."
The UN report noted, "The settlements are maintained and advanced through a system of total segregation between the settlers and the rest of the population living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
"This system of segregation is supported and facilitated by strict military and law enforcement control to the detriment of the rights of the Palestinian population."
Some 520,000 Israeli settlers live in about 250 separate settlements in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, some of them without the approval of the government, the report states.
"Israel cut its ties with the council when the probe was announced last March, in anticipation that it would add fuel to the Palestinian drive to bring Israel to the ICC on the settlement's issue," reported the Jerusalem Post newspaper on Thursday.
The UN report said that Israel is obliged under international law not to transfer its population into the Palestinian territories, known as the West Bank, most of which is west of the River Jordan.
It noted that the International Criminal Court of Justice could hold Israeli culpable for West Bank settlement activity if the Palestinians become party to the Rome Statute.
"The Rome Statute establishes the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction over the deportation or transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying Power of parts of its own population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory," the report stated.
The report said investigators conducted more than 50 interviews in Jordan with Palestinians about the impact of settlements, the confiscation of and damage to land, and violent attacks by settlers.
It said that many of the human rights of the Palestinians are violated in various forms and ways due to the existence of the settlements.
"These violations are all interrelated, forming part of an overall pattern of breaches that are characterized principally by the denial of the right to self-determination and systemic discrimination against the Palestinian people which occur on a daily basis."
The report said that since 1967, Israeli governments have openly led, directly participated in, and had full control of the planning, construction, development, consolidation and encouragement of settlements, the report states.
"We are today calling on the government of Israel to ensure full accountability for all violations, put an end to the policy of impunity and to ensure justice for all victims," said Ms. Asma Jahangir, member of the Mission from Pakistan.
Unity Dow, a member of the UN mission from Botswana commented, "The magnitude of violations relating to Israel's policies of dispossessions, evictions, demolitions and displacements from land shows the widespread nature of these breaches of human rights.
"The motivation behind violence and intimidation against the Palestinians and their properties is to drive the local populations away from their lands, allowing the settlements to expand."