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What will happen after the ICJ delegitimises Israel’s occupation of Palestine?

January 10, 2023 at 7:34 pm

An inside view of International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands [Abdullah Asiran/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

Once more, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is set to offer a legal opinion on the consequences of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. A historic UN vote on 31 December called on the ICJ to look at the occupation in terms of legal consequences, the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the responsibility of all UN member states to bring the protracted Israeli occupation to an end. A special emphasis will be placed on the “demographic composition, character and status” of occupied Jerusalem.

The last time that the ICJ was asked to offer a legal opinion on the matter was in 2004. However, back then, the opinion was largely centred around the “legal consequences arising from the construction of the [Israeli Apartheid] wall.”

While it is true that the ICJ concluded that the totality of the Israeli actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are unlawful under international law — the Fourth Geneva Convention, the relevant provision of the earlier Hague Regulations and, of course, numerous UN General Assembly and Security Council Resolutions — this time around the court will be offering its view on Israel’s attempt to make permanent what is meant to be a temporary military occupation.

In other words, the ICJ could — and most likely will — delegitimise every single Israeli action taken in occupied Palestine since 1967. This time around, the consequences will not be symbolic, as is often the case in UN-related decisions on Palestine.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has done more than any other Israeli leader to “normalise” the Israeli occupation of Palestine, was understandably angry following the UN vote. He described it as “despicable”.

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His coalition partners were equally intransigent. “[The Israeli] occupation of [the] West Bank is permanent and Israel has the right to annex it,” said Knesset Member Zvika Fogel, in an interview on 1 January with Israeli Radio 103FM. More than anything else, Fogel’s words encapsulate the new reality in Israel and Palestine. Gone are the days of political ambiguity regarding Israel’s ultimate motives in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Indeed, Israel is now trying to manage a whole new phase of its colonial project in Palestine, an endeavour that began in earnest in 1947-48 and, in Israel’s own calculation, is about to end with the total colonisation of Palestine. This is Israel’s version of a “one-state solution” that is predicated on apartheid and racial discrimination.

Fogel’s party, Otzma Yehudit, is an important member of Netanyahu’s new right-wing coalition. His words do not simply reflect his personal views or those of his ideological camp alone.

The new government is packed with extremists — the likes of Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Yoav Galant among others — and is now committed to an anti-peace agenda as a matter of policy. As soon as the new government was sworn in on 28 December, it announced that “the government will advance and develop settlements in all parts of Israel.” No distinction was made between “Israel” as recognised by countries around the world, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Annexation has already taken place in coalition minds.

Ben-Gvir, whose raid on Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem attracted a lot of criticism worldwide, is sending clear messages to Palestinians and the international community at large: as far as Israel is concerned, no international law is relevant, nothing is sacred and no inch of Palestine is off limits.

Israel's newly appointed National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir stormed the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Israel’s newly appointed National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir stormed the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

This time, however, it is not business as usual. Yes, Israel’s territorial expansion at the expense of occupied Palestine has been the common denominator between all Israeli governments throughout the past 75 years, but various governments, including Netanyahu’s early administrations, found indirect ways to justify illegal settlement construction. So-called “natural expansion” and “security needs” were just two of the many pretexts furnished by Israel to justify its constant push for the acquisition of land by force.

Practically-speaking, none of this would have been possible if not for the inexhaustible US support for Israel, financially, militarily and politically. Moreover, US vetoes at the UN Security Council and the relentless pressure on UN General Assembly members have allowed Israel to circumvent international law unscathed. It is able to act with complete impunity. The outcome is today’s tragic reality.

According to the official UN news website, there are currently nearly 700,000 illegal Jewish settlers living on occupied Palestinian land. The Israeli NGO Peace Now says that these Jewish settlers live in 145 illegal colonies in the occupied West Bank, as well as 140 settlement outposts, illegal even under Israeli law but which are likely to be made official by the new government.

The Netanyahu-led coalition has been formulated with the understanding that the outposts will indeed be legalised in the future, and thus receive official government funding. This should not pose a major political problem for Netanyahu who, in 2020, succeeded in selling the idea to the Israeli Knesset of annexing much of the West Bank and is now determined to carry out a process of “soft annexation”; de facto annexation that is likely to become legalised as a de jure annexation later on.

Nor would the full colonisation of Palestine prove to be a legal problem. Israel’s 2018 Nation-State Law has already provided the legal cover for Tel Aviv to violate international law and do as it pleases in terms of colonising all of Palestine and marginalising legitimate Palestinian rights. According to Israel’s new Basic Law, “The State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People in which it realises its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.” It was this particular reference that was cited in the new government’s statement on 29 December.

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Not many people in Israel are protesting against this. In a recent article in the Palestine Chronicle, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe explained how the current socio-political formations of Israeli society make it nearly impossible for alternative mainstream politics to emerge, aside from the three dominant right-wing and extremist currents at work in the Netanyahu coalition: Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Nationalist Religious Jews and Likud’s secular Jews.

This means that change in Israel could never come from within Israel itself. While Palestinians continue to resist, Arab and Muslim governments, and the international community at large, must confront the occupation state, using all means available to them to end this travesty. The ICJ opinion is very important, but without meaningful action, a legal opinion alone will not reverse the sinister reality on the ground in Palestine, especially when this reality is bankrolled, supported and sustained by Washington and Israel’s other western allies.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.