UN warns over Israeli plan to relocate West Bank Bedouin

Makeshifts tents at a West Bank Palestinian Bedouin camp, October 24, 2013
Makeshifts tents at a West Bank Palestinian Bedouin camp, October 24, 2013 (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana) (AFP/File)

Jerusalem (AFP) - The UN's Palestinian refugee agency on Sunday urged the international community to oppose Israeli plans to relocate thousands of Palestinian Bedouin from the central West Bank.

"If such a plan were implemented this would ... give rise to concerns that it amounts to a 'forcible transfer' in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention," banning involuntary population relocation in occupied territory, UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl said.

"It might also make way for further Israeli illegal settlement expansion, further compromising the viability of a two-state solution," he said in a statement.

"I urge the Israeli authorities not to proceed with the transfer ...and I also urge the donor and state community to take a firm stand against it."

A meeting on international aid to the Palestinians is to be held in New York on Monday.

UNRWA added that most of those slated for resettlement to Jericho, in the east of the Palestinian territory, were registered Palestinian refugees.

The Israeli military's department responsible for civil affairs in the occupied West Bank said there were various plans to rehouse Bedouin and they were being conducted in consultation with community leaders.

"As part of the effort to draft master plans for the benefit of the area's Bedouin population, whose purpose is to enable the Bedouin to live in places with suitable infrastructure, dozens of meetings were held with Bedouin leaders," it said in a written response to AFP.

"Several plans to prepare such places have been advanced, partly through such meetings."

But Haaretz newspaper said an original scheme to relocate one tribe had grown to a plan to move about 12,500 Bedouin from the Jahalin, Kaabneh and Rashaida tribes, without the level of dialogue recommended by the Israeli Supreme Court.

"The plans were drafted without consulting the Bedouin slated to live there," the paper said.

UNRWA said that among those slated for resettlement were people residing "in the E1 and Maale Adumim areas near Jerusalem, which have been slated for new Israeli settlement development."

Israel has been planning construction in the highly contentious area of the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, since the early 1990s.

Plans for building 1,200 settler homes unveiled in December 2012 were quickly put on the back burner after the announcement triggered a major diplomatic backlash.

The Palestinians say construction in E1 would effectively cut the West Bank in two and prevent the creation of any contiguous Palestinian state.