Israel Juan Cole

Will the International Court of Justice Finally Condemn Israel’s Illegal Squatting in Palestine?

The Peace Palace in The Hague, The Netherlands is the seat of the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. [R Boed / CC BY 2.0]

By Juan Cole | Informed Comment

 Al-Quds [Jerusalem] reports the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution entitled “Israeli Practices that affect the Human Rights of the Palestinian People in Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.” It depended on Chapter XIV, Article 96 of the U.N. Charter, which specifies that “The General Assembly or the Security Council may request the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion on any legal question.”

Al-Quds says that the wording of the UNGA resolution demonstrates a sea change in that body’s discourse about the Palestinians and a new, severe anxiety about the long-term deprivation of their basic human rights under international law.

According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, the UNGA asked the court

“to render its opinion on the legal consequences arising from Israel’s ongoing violation of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, its prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of discriminatory legislation and measures.”

The body also requested the ICJ to pronounce on how Israeli practices in the Occupied territories affect the legal status of the occupation, and the further legal consequences that flow from any such verdict for the international community.

Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 after having angled to do so for a decade. The Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute forbid occupying powers to alter the ways of life of the occupied population, or to annex that territory, or to settle their own citizens in the occupied territory. The laws of occupation also envisage it as being brief, lasting during war time, not stretching to decades. These strictures were reactions against war crimes during WW II, such as when Germany occupied Poland and attempted to replace the Poles with ethnic Germans and to annex Polish territory to Germany. Some 6 million Poles were killed during the war and occupation.

The OHCHR had asked the General Assembly in October to take up the question of whether Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza had lasted so long and been characterized by such brazen disregard for the laws of occupation as to now be unlawful.

In the lead-up to the vote at the UNGA, South Africa’s ambassador to the UN said that:

“the facts on the ground lead to only one conclusion, and that is that Israel is perpetrating an apartheid system against the Palestinian people. “It is a strong comparison to make, and it is not one South Africa makes lightly for we understand the term beyond any doubt,” he said, emphasizing that calling out Israel for documented atrocities against Palestinians is not antisemitic.”

The United States condemned the step, even though it has asked international courts to take up the illegality of the Russian occupation of eastern Ukraine and has cited the same corpus of international law against Russian practices as UN members cited against Israel’s. US spokesman Richard M. Mills said that a two-state solution was the best resolution. You wonder in which universe Mr. Mills lives, that he thinks a Palestinian state is still viable, when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has pledged to annex the entirety of the West Bank. He pointed to the Abraham Accords as a reason for which no International Court of Justice verdict is needed. Again, which universe does he live in? The issue isn’t whether Dubai can make money off Israeli business deals but whether the 5 million Palestinians under permanent Israeli military occupation will ever have their basic human rights recognized.

The United States’s mantra about a “peace process” and a phantom “two-state solution” is just dust thrown in the world’s eyes to obscure Washington’s complicity in the brutalization of the Palestinian people.

Israel’s politicians maintain that it is being unfairly demonized by the UNGA resolution. However, there are no other states in the world that are occupying a number of stateless people that is nearly equal to their own population. Occupations result from the capture of territory in war time. But democratic countries have given back the territory they occupied after 1945 when the UN Charter came into effect. The United States ceased occupying Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington did not send millions of Americans to settle in those countries while the US military patrolled them, and the U.S. did not permanently annex Basra or Jalalabad. But the Israelis are still occupying the Palestinian territories, and won’t let the Palestinians have the rights of citizenship in a state. The Israelis annexed some of the occupied territories to themselves. The Palestinians are the largest group of stateless people in the world, and are kept that way by Israel. If Israel is being treated distinctively it is because what it is doing is distinctive.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

* indicates required
Juan Cole
Juan Cole

Juan Cole is a public intellectual, prominent blogger and essayist, and the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments