November 19, 2022
Israeli security forces hold back a Palestinian man in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, on November 19, 2022 (AFP)
It remains to be seen what advisory opinion the International Court of Justice will deliver to the UN’s decolonization committee following the latter’s request for the former’s opinion on Israel’s “prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.”
The committee’s resolution was quite clear that the occupation is a violation of the right of Palestinians to self-determination. The resolution, which was passed with a big majority in the UN, faced fierce criticism from Israel and its ally, the US.
The resolution should surprise only those who, mercifully for them, have managed to ignore the news for the past 55 years, or the fact that it took the UN so long to support such a move, which on this occasion was initiated by the Palestinian Authority.
To be sure, the long list of “grave concerns,” as the resolution puts it, over the situation in the West Bank and Gaza suggests that the UN knows the answers to its questions — and how could it not? Nothing is new in the long litany of human rights abuses mentioned in the resolution, and it is hardly conceivable that any legal expert of any repute, let alone ICJ judges, would deem Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza to be legal, let alone the wider occupation itself.
In this sense it is interesting to look at the linguistic transformation in Israel with reference to the West Bank and Gaza. Originally, carried along on the waves of the euphoric 1967 victory, Israeli authorities referred to the territories as “liberated.” Later, given that that the local Palestinian population most definitely did not feel at all liberated while living under Israeli military rule, and to leave some room for some sort of political solution, Israeli governments switched to another euphemism and began to call the Palestinian lands “administered territories.” Even this term was open-ended and did not suggest any potential end to the occupation.
It was only after the Oslo Accords in the 1990s that some more realistic Israeli leaders dared to use the term “occupied” in reference to the West Bank and Gaza. But even that is still a rarity.
Israel continues to hold to the very unconvincing argument that because it took the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt in 1967 during a war that was imposed on it — and remember that neither Jordan nor Egypt had any legal claim to either territory, as they had been assigned to a future Palestinian state by the 1947 UN partition plan — Israel’s control of these territories and their residents cannot be regarded as an illegal occupation. This is hardly a compelling argument on either legal or political grounds.
As it is, as a result of the 1948 war Israel expanded the territory that was assigned to it by the partition plan from 45 percent to 78 percent of Mandatory Palestine — admittedly, yes, through a war that it did not initiate, as such.
But whatever the circumstances that led to Israel controlling the West Bank and Gaza Strip, its claim to those territories is based on its own religious-historical narrative. This in itself has no foundation in international law, let alone the fact that it is depriving millions of people of their basic rights, and is hindering any chance of peaceful coexistence between these two political entities.
Had Israel not shown complete disregard for the rights of Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and in blockaded Gaza, an ICJ investigation would never have happened.
Israel’s response to the UN request that the ICJ investigate Israeli handling of the Occupied Palestinian Territories was a mixture of the disingenuous, the hysterical and the pathetic. This reflected a bizarre combination of being in denial while also being deeply concerned that the eventual opinion delivered by the ICJ would increase pressure on Israeli authorities to rethink their relations with the Palestinians and end the occupation. They are also afraid that this might lead to the eventual indictment of a number of Israeli politicians and high-ranking military officials by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
In his response to the resolution, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, epitomized his country’s audacity and detachment by accusing the Palestinian Authority of acting unilaterally with the aim of destroying hopes for peace talks, arguing that it gives Palestinians “the perfect excuse to continue boycotting the negotiating table.”
In case his point was not clear enough, he added that the Palestinians were exploiting the court “as a weapon of mass destruction in their jihad war of Israel demonization.”
Wow. In what parallel universe do Erdan and those who sent him to represent the Jewish state live in? There have been no peace talks of any description between the Israelis and the Palestinians for years. The first prime minister of the recent, so-called change government, Naftali Bennett, reiterated time and again during his short stint in charge that a Palestinian state would never happen on his watch. Both he and his predecessor, Yair Lapid, refused to even meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Palestinians cannot boycott negotiations that do not exist, and the only peaceful routes that remain open to them are to plead with the international community for protection from the longest occupation of the post-1945 world order, and resort to civil disobedience.
The occupying force is taking steps every single day to make a peace agreement based on a two-state solution impossible by enabling some of its population to settle in the Occupied Territories at the expense of Palestinians, while oppressing them, assaulting them and dispossessing them in contravention of international law, not to mention basic morality and common decency.
Israel has only itself to blame for the fact that its behavior in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for the past 55 years is about to be investigated by the ICJ.
Had it not shown complete disregard for the rights of Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and in blockaded Gaza, had it not built settlements that are now home to more than 600,000 of its citizens, exposing its true intentions to eventually annex at least some of the West Bank and in the process crushing Palestinian hopes for self-determination, an ICJ investigation would never have happened.
Until the court publishes its findings — which are not expected to tell us anything we do not already know — it is up to the international community to pull its weight and work to bring this brutal occupation to a peaceful conclusion. It is up to the international community to ensure the security, the political, human and civil rights, and the prosperity of everyone between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Only by achieving this will the UN and the international community in general be judged to have successfully resolved this conflict.
— Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg
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