The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on Friday calling on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to look into Israel’s actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, with the support of 87 countries, the opposition of 26, and the abstention of 53.
The symbolic step angered the government of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was sworn into office on 29 December after forming a new cabinet following difficult negotiations with his radical right partners.
The UN General Assembly resolution asks the opinion of the ICJ, based in The Hague, of Israeli actions to change the demography of Jerusalem and to determine the legal consequences of Israel’s continued violation of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.
It also demands that Israel must cease and desist from further settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) welcomed the resolution, with spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh declaring that “the time has come for Israel to comply with the law and be held accountable for its continued crimes against the Palestinian people. The world must also shoulder its responsibility and enforce legitimate international resolutions. Everyone must stop the current double standards.”
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that “this step is crucial, especially since the Palestinians have asked the ICJ to issue a legal opinion and advisory on the nature and form of this long-term and illegal colonial occupation.”
“The resolution stipulates the definition of the responsibilities and duties of the international community as a whole and the UN in ending the occupation and its crimes.”
In response, Netanyahu said the resolution was not binding and described it as “despicable”.
“The Jewish people are not an occupier on our own land or an occupier in our eternal capital Jerusalem,” he said. “No UN resolution will distort this historic truth.”
Salah Abdel-Ati, an expert on international law, said that “the resolution is part of a campaign to take the Palestinian cause to the international arena, in response to the policies of previous and incumbent Israeli governments that shirk their responsibilities as the occupying power in the Palestinian Territories.”
Abdel-Ati told Al-Ahram Weekly that “sending a request to the ICJ is a precedent to identify the legal status of the occupation and Israel’s role in the Palestinian Territories as an occupier by force. This is something Israel is trying to evade by claiming there is Palestinian self-rule.”
While admitting that the resolution merely asks for a legal consultation and there is no mechanism to oblige Israel to implement its outcomes, Abdel-Ati said it would nevertheless give “impetus to the boycott Israel movement and the momentum in favour of the Palestinians, especially with the rise of the radical right to power in Israel.”
The step could lead to restrictions on Israel’s relations with other countries, noting that in order to be effective this would require the Palestinians to knock on the doors of international institutions and begin the serious pursuit of key figures in the new Israeli government.
Abdel-Ati said that Tel Aviv’s irritation and counter actions before and after the General Assembly vote confirmed that Israel’s relations with some other countries could become strained.
“Israel’s actions on the global stage are based on disrespect and ready accusations of anti-semitism,” he said. “This requires a serious stand by the international community against Israel’s flaunting of the law.”
He said the ball was now in the PA’s court and that it must take cumulative steps to build on this step and take advantage of the international momentum that is leery of the new far-right government in Israel.
Meanwhile, Israel and the US are putting pressure on the PA to prevent Palestine from joining several international organisations and trying to block cases against Israel from reaching the ICJ. So far, they have been successful in slowing the PA’s progress in that direction.
Israel has also threatened to impose punitive measures against Palestinian officials if the Palestinians continue to pursue Israel on the global stage. These include canceling passes that facilitate the movement of PA officials on the West Bank and tightening the noose around some PA institutions.
Former Palestinian minister of justice Ali Al-Sartawi said that the UN General Assembly vote was a key step towards fortifying the Palestinian position against Israel with international legitimacy and bringing to the fore the Palestinian demand that the world not use double standards when dealing with the Palestinian cause.
“This resolution is a victory for the Palestinians in confronting Israeli measures that have destroyed the foundations of peace, allowed settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem to run rampant, and built an Apartheid Wall,” Al-Sartawi told the Weekly.
“The ICJ has previously issued a legal opinion on the Apartheid Wall, but the PA has been slow on the legal follow-up.”
He said that as the Palestinian steps build and move to the ICJ, there will be serious consequences, especially in terms of prosecuting Israeli government leaders who support radical right policies against the Palestinians.
The PA has already threatened to implement the decisions of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC), the umbrella for all Palestinian factions under the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).
The PCC has called for revising the PLO’s recognition of Israel, since the latter has reneged on agreements signed with the Palestinians.
However, the PA could be slow to follow through on such actions. It is concerned that Israel may take steps that could lead to its collapse, and it is already reticent about asserting its control of the West Bank.
Israeli actions on the ground already largely tie the hands of the PA and limit its options.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly