Sat 24 Feb 2024 2:27 pm - Jerusalem Time

Occupied Palestinian Territories: 1st days of hearings at the International Court of Justice

This is a first in the history of the International Court of Justice (ICJ): 52 States and three international organizations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the African Union (AU) and the League of Arab States , submitted their written comments as well as the oral presentations of their representatives in a case.

The proceedings concern an advisory opinion requested from the ICJ in December 2022, before the current conflict in Gaza, by the United Nations General Assembly on "the legal consequences of Israel's policies and practices in the Occupied Territories, including Jerusalem- East ".

Questions asked by the UN General Assembly

The two specific questions posed by the UN General Assembly to the ICJ are as follows:

“What are the legal consequences of Israel's continued violation of the Palestinian people's right to self-determination, its occupation, colonization and prolonged annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including measures aimed at changing the demographic composition , the character and status of the holy city of Jerusalem, and Israel's adoption of related discriminatory laws and measures? »

“How do Israel's policies and practices impact the legal status of the occupation and what are the legal consequences for all States and the United Nations? »

This report provides a non-exhaustive overview of the points of view of the different speakers during the first three days of hearings (February 19-21). The rest will be presented after the hearings close on February 26.

Palestine's plea

Palestine presented its arguments for three hours on February 19. Riyad al-Maliki, foreign minister of the Palestinian National Authority, began with these words: “I stand before you as 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, half of them children, are besieged and bombed, killed and massacred, starved and displaced; while more than 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are subjected to the colonization of their territory and the racist violence that enables it, while 1.7 million Palestinians in Israel are treated as second-class citizens area and foreigners unwelcome in their ancestral land, and that 7 million Palestinian refugees continue to be denied the right to return home.

Riyad al-Maliki called for “an end to Israel’s impunity, a moral, political and legal imperative.” Successive governments in Israel have left Palestinians with only three choices: displacement, subjugation or death. These are the choices: ethnic cleansing, apartheid or genocide. But our people are here to stay, and are not going to give up their rights.”

The jurists and diplomats who defended Palestine formed an international team of renowned experts, with law professor Andreas Zimmermann (Germany), Paul S. Reichler (United States), diplomat Namira Negm (Egypt), lawyer Philippe Sands (France, United Kingdom), jurist Alain Pellet (France) and Riyad Mansour, Permanent Representative of Palestine to the United Nations.

Practices described as “apartheid” by South Africa

South Africa, which filed a complaint with the ICJ in December against Israel for "genocide in Gaza", a separate case on which the ICJ indicated provisional measures on January 26, was the first to speak out after Palestine.

After “decades of apartheid colonialism and settler settlement,” Vusimuzi Madonsela, South Africa's ambassador to the Netherlands, declared on February 19, “a fair solution for all those who legally qualify for living in historic Palestine should be negotiated with the assistance of the international community.”

The diplomat drew a parallel between the situation in Palestine and the struggle of South Africans against apartheid, an “institutionalized regime of discriminatory laws” which today ensures “Israeli and Jewish domination”. He called for the “immediate, unconditional and total withdrawal of Israeli troops” from the Occupied Territories.

Many criticisms of Israel

Chile recalled being home to the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East, and a large Jewish community, the third largest in Latin America. Israel “does not consider itself nor act as a temporary occupier,” its practices amounting to “annexation,” according to Santiago.

Algeria estimated that Israel “aims a point of no return” in the Occupied Territories, to “rule out any possibility of creating a Palestinian state”. Through the voice of law professor Ahmed Laraba, Algiers asked the ICJ to put an end to Israel's "impunity" as an "oppressor", by reminding it of "a law which is not that of revenge, but justice.”

Saudi Arabia, for its part, criticized Israel for “the dehumanization” of Palestinians, treated as “disposable objects” in Gaza. A situation which shows “how the illegality of the Israeli occupation for more than 50 years can degenerate into the ugliest consequences”. In addition, Saudi Arabia accuses Israel of “continuing to ignore the provisional measures ordered by the Court” on January 26 as part of the South African complaint for “genocide”.

“International law cannot be an a la carte menu, but must apply equally to all,” said Lana Nusseibeh, Assistant Minister for Political Affairs and Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the United Nations.

Cuba extended its criticism to the United States, and asked the ICJ to take into account American “complicity” in the policies carried out by Israel, including in the supply of weapons to Israel.

The right to self-defense addressed by the Netherlands…

The Netherlands recalled the foundations of the right to self-determination of peoples, as well as the legal framework for the use of force and the right to self-defense in the event of attack.

René J. M. Lefeber, legal advisor to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recalled that "the occupation of a territory can be legitimate within the framework of the right to self-defense, in response to an armed attack", even if that -this does not come from a State but from an armed group.

He also recalled the obligation to respect international humanitarian law and to put an end to its violations, hoping that the ICJ could contribute to bringing peace to the Middle East.

…and contested by Egypt

Egypt highlighted the seriousness of the current situation, including in Rafah where “Israel continues its policy of mass expulsion of Palestinian civilians, while the Security Council repeatedly fails to call for a ceasefire, in callous disregard for Palestinian life.”

Aligned with the Palestinian plea, Egyptian representative Jasmine Moussa, Legal Advisor to the Egyptian Foreign Minister's Office, said: “The Middle East region yearns for peace, stability and a just resolution, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the principles of international law and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, along pre-1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Egypt has challenged Israel's use of the right to self-defense, accusing it of having committed a "war of aggression" in 1967 and then continued "decades of occupation" contrary to international law. “The argument that a state can resort to self-defense against territory under its own military occupation and effective control is counterintuitive,” continued Jasmine Moussa. (…) Israel cannot invoke self-defense to maintain a situation created by its own illegal conduct.”

France recalls Israel’s “right to defend itself” in accordance with international law

Returning first to “the very heavy context in which these hearings take place”, since the attack carried out by Hamas in Israel on October 7, Diégo Colas, Director of Legal Affairs at the French Ministry of Europe and Affairs foreign countries, recalled on February 21 in the name of France “the right of Israel to defend itself and its population with the aim of preventing such attacks from happening again. This right must be exercised in strict compliance with international law, and in particular international humanitarian law.

While Israeli operations and bombings are causing thousands of civilian victims in Gaza, France has clearly, consistently and repeatedly affirmed this demand.”

He added that “respect for international law, in particular international humanitarian law, by all stakeholders, is the only possible horizon of peace. »

“The colonization policy must stop”, according to France

France reiterated its condemnation of the colonization policy accelerated since 2004 by Israel, “which must stop”. On measures aimed at changing the demographic composition of the occupied territories, France "reiterates its condemnation of comments promoting the installation of colonies in Gaza and the transfer of the Palestinian population of Gaza out of this territory", which would constitute "a very serious violation of international law.

On the Statute of Jerusalem, proclaimed one and indivisible as the capital of the State of Israel by the fundamental law of Israel of July 30, 1980, France mentioned “Security Council resolution 478 of 1980, which recalls that The adoption of this fundamental law does not call into question the application of the 4th Geneva Convention (on the protection of civilians). There is therefore no doubt that the unilateral status imposed by Israel on Jerusalem is null and void under international law. »

In addition, “France considers that it is appropriate to maintain unchanged the historical status quo on the holy places in Jerusalem”. On the question of reparations, “France considers that this obligation extends to all damage done to the Palestinian population”, by proceeding with “restitutions and failing that, compensation”.

Egypt, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba and Brazil also mention reparations

Bolivia, which broke off its relations with Israel on November 1, 2023, denounced a situation of “apartheid” and “atrocities amounting to the crime of genocide” in Gaza. She pleaded for “Israel’s reversal of its illegal settlement policy” in the Occupied Territories, with reparations and compensation as a result.

According to Colombia, Israel must cease all occupation and colonization, but also carry out reparations. “Israel has an obligation to compensate, in accordance with applicable rules of international law, any legal person who has suffered any form of material or immaterial damage resulting from its occupation of the Palestinian territories.”

Like Egypt, Cuba mentioned the principle of reparations for damage caused to the Palestinians. Brazil, which along with Bolivia and Colombia supported South Africa's complaint against Israel for "genocide", also stated the principle of reparations, without going into details.

A negotiated two-state solution

Brazil especially insisted on February 20 on the need to move towards a negotiated two-state solution in “one of the most pressing unresolved conflicts on the international agenda for decades”.

From Brazil's point of view, "the importance of the issue and the seriousness of the situation were indisputable, even before October 7, 2023. The tragic events of that date and the disproportionate and indiscriminate military operations that followed, however, show clearly that conflict management alone cannot be considered an option. The two-state solution with an economically viable Palestinian state living alongside Israel is the only way to bring peace and security to Israelis and Palestinians.”

The United States in favor of a political settlement within the framework established by the UN

Richard C. Visek, Legal Advisor at the American Department of State, began by recalling “the horror of the terrorist attacks of October 7, 2023” and a context marked by “the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, which has consequences severe, widespread and tragic for Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

He recalled the efforts of the United States to “not only resolve the current crisis but also move beyond it, by advancing a political settlement that will lead to lasting peace in the region, including lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians, and a path to a Palestinian state.”

The American expert focused his presentation on the fact that stakeholders must return to the framework set by the Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly to resolve the conflict – a two-state solution. He then discussed the role of the ICJ in preserving this framework, so as to make a negotiated solution always possible.

“The occupation must end,” says Russia

“The occupation must end,” said Vladimir Tarabrin, ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Netherlands, following many countries. Russia also advocates the negotiated two-state solution. On February 21, she highlighted two important points in her eyes: “Israel’s persistent denial of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination” and “the colonization policy pursued by Israel since 1967.”

“This has effectively undermined the prospects of a negotiated solution. (…) The number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, is more than 700,000. (…) In 2023, Israel's settlement activities have broken speed records: according to the latest report from the Secretary General of the "At the UN, plans for more than 24,700 housing units have been advanced, approved or contracted, more than double the 11,700 in 2022, which was already a remarkable figure in itself."

Russia also hopes that the ICJ can contribute to the solution of the conflict by stipulating that both parties “are subject to the obligation” to resume peace negotiations.

This article was produced by the United Nations Information Center for Western Europe based in Brussels.


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Occupied Palestinian Territories: 1st days of hearings at the International Court of Justice