Once again, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will issue a legal opinion on the consequences of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. A historic UN vote on Dec. 31 called for the ICJ to view the occupation in terms of legal ramifications, the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and the responsibility of all UN member states to end the long-standing Israeli occupation. A special emphasis will be placed on the “demographic composition, character and status” of occupied Jerusalem.
The last time the ICJ was asked to provide a legal opinion on the matter was in 2004. However, at the time, the advice was largely about the “legal consequences arising from the construction of the [Israeli Apartheid] wall.”
While it is true that the International Court of Justice concluded that all of Israel’s actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal under international law – the Fourth Geneva Convention, the relevant provision of the previous Hague Regulations and, of course, numerous UN General Assembly and Security Laws Council Resolutions – this time the court will give its opinion on Israel’s attempt to make permanent what is meant to be a temporary military occupation.
In other words, the ICJ could – and probably will – delegitimize any Israeli action taken in occupied Palestine since 1967. This time, the consequences will not be symbolic, as is often the case with UN-related decisions on Palestine.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has done more than any other Israeli leader to “normalize” Israel’s occupation of Palestine, was understandably angry after the UN vote. He described it as “despicable”.
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His coalition partners were equally intransigent. “[The Israeli] occupation of [the] The West Bank is permanent and Israel has the right to annex it,” Knesset member Zvika Fogel said in a Jan. 1 interview with the Israel Defense Forces. Radio 103FM. Fogel’s words mainly summarize the new reality in Israel and Palestine. Gone are the days of political obscurity over Israel’s ultimate motives in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Indeed, Israel is now attempting to manage an entirely new phase of its colonial project in Palestine, an undertaking that began in earnest in 1947-48 and, by Israel’s own reckoning, is about to end with the total colonization of Palestine. This is Israel’s version of a “one-state solution” based on apartheid and racial discrimination.
Fogel’s party, Otzma Yehudit, is a key member of Netanyahu’s new right-wing coalition. His words do not reflect only his personal views or those of his ideological camp.
The new government is full of extremists — Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Yoav Galant, among others — and is now pushing an anti-peace agenda as a policy issue. Once the new government was sworn in on December 28, it announced that “the government will go ahead and develop settlements in all parts of Israel.” No distinction was made between “Israel”, as recognized by countries around the world, and the occupied Palestinian territories. Annexation has already taken place in the minds of the coalition.
Ben-Gvir, whose raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem sparked global criticism, is sending clear signals to the Palestinians and the international community at large: As far as Israel is concerned, no international law is relevant, nothing is sacred and not an inch of Palestine is off limits.
This time, however, it’s not business as usual. Yes, Israel’s territorial expansion at the expense of occupied Palestine has been the common denominator between all Israeli governments for the past 75 years, but several governments, including Netanyahu’s early administrations, found indirect ways to justify illegal settlement building. So-called “natural expansion” and “security needs” were just two of the many pretexts Israel used to justify its continued pursuit of land acquisition by force.
In practice, none of this would have been possible without America’s unwavering support for Israel, financially, militarily, and politically. In addition, US vetoes in the UN Security Council and relentless pressure on members of the UN General Assembly have allowed Israel to circumvent international law intact. It is able to act with impunity. The result is the tragic reality of today.
According to the official UN news website, nearly 700,000 illegal Jewish settlers currently live on occupied Palestinian land. The Israeli NGO Peace Now says 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 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 legalized in the future and thus receive official government funding. This should not pose a major political problem to Netanyahu, who in 2020 managed to sell the idea to the Israeli Knesset to annex much of the West Bank and is now determined to push through a process of “soft annexation”. feed; de facto annexation which will probably later be legalized as a de jure annexation.
Nor would the full colonization of Palestine prove to be a legal problem. Israel’s nation-state law of 2018 has already given Tel Aviv the legal cover to violate international law and do what it wants in terms of colonizing all of Palestine and marginalizing 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 realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.” It was this specific reference that was cited in the statement issued by the new government on December 29.
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Not many people in Israel protest against this. In a recent article in the Palestine ChronicleIsraeli historian Ilan Pappe explained how the current socio-political formations of Israeli society make it almost impossible for alternative mainstream politics to emerge, apart from the three dominant right-wing and extremist currents at work in the Netanyahu coalition : ultra-Orthodox Jews, Nationalist religious Jews and secular Jews of Likud.
This means that change in Israel could never come from Israel itself. While the Palestinians continue to resist, Arab and Islamic governments, and the international community at large, must confront the occupying state and use all available means to end this travesty. The opinion of the ICJ is very important, but without meaningful action, a legal opinion alone will not reverse the sinister reality in Palestine, especially when this reality is funded, supported and abetted by Washington and Israel’s other western allies.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect Middle East Monitor’s editorial policies.