The Israeli occupation authorities’ plan to annex most of the West Bank is but another form of the oppression that the Palestinians have been suffering for decades. It is reminiscent of the way that international law is used and abused, and ignored by Israel on a daily basis, to ensure that the rights which the Palestinians undoubtedly have are never evident on the ground, so that justice is never served in their favour.
Few reasonable people can argue against the legitimate rights of the Palestinians to their land, resources and self-determination; international laws and conventions are very clear on this. However, they are deprived of their rights even though the self-same laws and conventions govern and guide the rest of the world without, it seems, much argument. If we are all governed by the same international legal system, why is this missing in occupied Palestine?
Perhaps, as some argue, there is a problem of interpretation of the law, leading to the inability to take legal action in Israeli or other courts to seek redress. Others, meanwhile, suggest that it is better to have a clear political programme which uses the law to best advantage for Palestinians to be granted their rights, rather than the other way round.
This applies not only to the issue of the land, and the planned annexation of the occupied West Bank, but also to human rights and the concept of the right to self-determination. Ultimately, we cannot do anything but adhere to the law and its positive role in establishing political and human rights, even if justice is not achieved in the first instance; and even if the political and legal powers that be are not pleased with the efforts being made. Human rights are for all human beings, surely, and not just the rich and powerful.
The Palestinian experience, however, proves that we cannot pin all of our hopes on the legal path as long as the political balance is tipped against the Palestinian people and their cause. We have seen first-hand that the law has a degree of flexibility and can be both used and abused, depending on the skill of the advocates. In the field of international law and human rights law, the political factor gives value to the application of the law, which confirms the need for the Palestinians to possess an effective political framework which avoids the trap of endless jousting with the Israeli occupation authorities over our rights. Such word play over the past few decades has seen us gain nothing and lose almost everything in “concessions” to the state and people who have taken our land.
Although the importance and usefulness of the law with regard to the Palestinian cause cannot be denied, it has to be pointed out that it was developed in the Western world, from where most of our problems arose. It was the former colonial powers which backed the Zionist movement and created the state of Israel in the land of Palestine. The same former colonial powers also created the legal framework necessary to maintain their domination over the once colonised countries and continue to exploit their natural resources. International law established the relationship between the coloniser and colonised, and prevented the emerging nations from deciding their own economic and political fate by controlling the mechanisms by which the law was, and is, implemented.The structures imposed by the West begin at the top with the UN Security Council, which remains dominated by the aforementioned powers. The five permanent members of the Council — the USSR/Russia, the US, China, France and Britain, who were nuclear powers after the Second World War — have the ability to block any resolution in the chamber which is not in their own interests, or those of their client states. The US, for example, has used its veto to block criticism of the state of Israel on at least 43 occasions. Attempts to hold Israel to account for the contempt that it displays for international law are thus doomed to almost certain failure at the UN. General Assembly resolutions are, of course, not binding and do not carry much weight when it comes to serial abusers of the law, such as Israel.
The whole issue of international law requires close scrutiny and, if necessary, change. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, it is indeed necessary for change to occur, because our relationship with the law and its structures is ambiguous, at best: yes, we have this right and that right, the law makes this clear; but no, we are never going to be allowed to see those rights come to fruition; Israel and its friends in the West will make sure of that. Palestinian rights, it is clear, are undervalued because the implementation of the law is tilted in favour of our oppressor, the state of Israel.
Israeli violations against the Palestinians, such as the Separation Wall, land confiscation and settlement expansion, for example, have been declared by various legal authorities in the international arena to be without legitimacy in terms of international laws and conventions. However, the political will has not been there to press charges against Israel and hold it to account. This lack of accountability serves to demonstrate that the state was created as a colonial entity to usurp Palestinian land, displace the indigenous people and commit as many crimes and atrocities as necessary until the aim of “Greater Israel” is achieved. The law as it stands may say that all of this is illegal, but unfortunately for us all — not just the Palestinians — the framework to implement and enforce the law is absent.It is important, therefore, for the people of occupied Palestine to have an effective, and most of all united, political framework to work in parallel with the lawyers and engage in political, diplomatic and legal battles as entirely legitimate forms of resistance to Israel’s ongoing oppressive occupation. Israel has become expert at such engagement, and has pushed ahead to establish many “facts on the ground” while the Palestinians have been caught sleeping and arguing amongst themselves.
The Israelis and their allies in Washington now seek to make annexation another “fact” that simply cannot be undone, which means that we will be left to make even more humiliating concessions to give a veneer of legitimacy to the usurper entity’s theft of our land. We are the only people in the world who not only have to “negotiate” for our legitimate rights with the entity which has deprived us of those rights, and all the while have to see the same entity claiming to be the victim in all of this so that it can strip us of yet more land, rights and independence in the name of “self-defence” and “security”.
The new reality that annexation will create leaves no space for an independent state of Palestine; that dream has been shattered and is now a nightmare, where we are unable to access our own land, travel without Israel’s permission or even visit family and friends without passing through Israel’s military checkpoints. “Greater Israel” is already on the horizon.
If and when annexation goes ahead — as experience suggests it will, eventually — we will see farmers in Jericho, adjacent to the Jordan Valley, the West Bank’s food basket, and other parts of the West Bank being unable to reach their lands and tend to their crops. Illegal Israeli settlers, meanwhile, will continue to farm Palestinian land with ease, using cheap, slave-like Palestinian labour in the process.
It will be a manifestation of apartheid at its worst. Two peoples living in the same land and ruled to all intents and purposes by the same government will not have the same legal, civil, political and human rights. The people of Palestinian will be — we already are — treated as foreigners in our own land.
That is why we Palestinians can empathise so readily with the Black Lives Matter movement; we too “can’t breathe” as we are being strangled by Israeli oppression despite the law being so much in our favour. We may not have been abandoned by international law per se, but we have most definitely been let down very badly by the structures which are charged and trusted with the implementation of the law. From the UN to national governments and all international bodies in between, the Palestinians have been denied their rights which would bring an end to their suffering.
The recent opposition to Israel’s annexation plans will mean nothing until and unless it is followed up with definite action to end Israel’s favoured status. If international law and equal rights are to have any meaning and value at all, that is the least that international community can and must do.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.