By Ramzy Baroud
Once more, the International Court of Justice will offer a legal opinion on the consequences of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
A historic UN vote on Dec. 31 called on the court to look at the Israeli occupation in terms of legal consequences, the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the responsibility of all UN member states in bringing the protracted occupation to an end. A special emphasis will be placed on the “demographic composition, character and status” of Jerusalem.
The last time the International Court of Justice was asked to offer a legal opinion on the matter was in 2004. However, back then, the opinion was largely centered on the “legal consequences arising from the construction of the (Israeli apartheid) wall.”
While it is true that the court concluded that the totality of Israeli actions in the Occupied 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, it is offering its view on Israel’s attempt to make what is meant to be a temporary military occupation a permanent one.
In other words, the court could — and most likely will — delegitimize every single Israeli action taken in occupied Palestine since 1967. This time around, 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” the occupation, was understandably angry following the UN vote, describing it as “despicable.” His coalition partners and other allies were equally intransigent.
The Israeli “occupation of (the) West Bank is permanent and Israel has the right to annex it,” Knesset member Zvika Fogel said during a Jan. 1 interview. 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 Territories.
Indeed, Israel is now trying to manage a whole new phase of its colonial project in Palestine — an endeavor that began in earnest in 1947-48 and, by its own calculation, is about to end with the total colonization of Palestine: Israel’s version of a one-state solution that is predicated on apartheid and racial discrimination.
Fogel, whose party, Jewish Power, is an important member of Netanyahu’s new right-wing coalition, does not reflect his personal views or those of his ideological camp alone. The new government, packed with extremists like Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Yoav Galant, is now committed to an anti-peace agenda as a matter of policy. As soon as the new coalition was sworn in on Dec. 28, it was announced that “the government will advance and develop settlements in all parts of Israel.”
Ben-Gvir, whose raid of Al-Aqsa Mosque last week raised much 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.
This time, however, it is not business as usual.
Yes, Israel’s territorial expansion at the expense of Palestine has been the common denominator among all Israeli governments in the last 75 years. However, various Israeli governments, including Netanyahu’s early Cabinets, found indirect ways to justify illegal settlement construction. So-called natural expansion and security needs were among the many pretexts furnished by Israel to justify its constant push for land acquisition by force.
Practically, none of this would have been possible if it were not for the inexhaustible US support of Israel — financially, militarily and politically. Moreover, US vetoes at the UNSC and the relentless pressure on UNGA members allowed Israel to circumvent international law unscathed. The outcome is today’s tragic reality.
According to the official UN news website, there are currently nearly 700,000 illegal settlers. The Israeli nongovernmental organization Peace Now says that these settlers live in 145 illegal colonies in the West Bank, in addition to 140 settlement outposts, many of which are likely to be made official by the new government.
In fact, the Netanyahu-led alliance has been formulated with the understanding that the outposts will be legalized, thus giving them official government funding. This should not pose a major political problem for Netanyahu, who, in 2020, succeeded in selling the idea to the Knesset of Israel annexing much of the West Bank and is now determined to carry out a process of “soft annexation” — a de facto annexation that is likely to become legalized as a de jure annexation later on.
Neither will the full colonization of Palestine prove to be a legal problem for Netanyahu. Israel’s Nation-State Law of 2018 has already provided the legal cover for Tel Aviv to flout international law and do as it pleases in terms of colonizing all of Palestine and marginalizing Palestinian rights. According to this 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.” This was cited in the new government’s statement on Dec. 29.
And there are not many in Israel who are protesting this. In a recent article in the Palestine Chronicle, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe explained how the current sociopolitical 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, national religious Jews and Likud’s secular Jews.
This means that change in Israel can never come from Israel itself. While Palestinians continue to resist, Arab and Muslim governments and the international community at large must confront Israel, using all means available to end this travesty.
The International Court of Justice’s 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.