Advisory opinions and wasting time for Palestinians

Ramona Wadi

Middle East Monitor  /  October 3, 2023

In December last year, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution that requested the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s military occupation, only for the court to respond with statements that the UN itself has been regurgitating for decades, yet never put into practice.

The advisory opinion was published last month. It details the consequences of Israel’s military occupation — which the ICJ classifies as belligerent due to its permanence — on Palestinians’ self-determination, and notes that UN member states have a duty to refrain from actions that aid Israel to maintain its occupation of Palestinian territory.

“States should distinguish, in all of their dealings, between the State of Israel and Palestine, such as abstaining from diplomatic or other activity that may lead to the actual or implied acceptance or prolongation of the occupation,” said the court. “States should not render aid or assistance in maintaining the occupation, including financial assistance and business relations.”

In case the UN needs reminding, it admitted Israel as a full member state on 11 May 1949, one year after the Nakba, thus legitimizing its colonial presence in Palestine. What followed in terms of the UN’s disposition towards Israel, was an extension of impunity in the same way that Israel extended its colonial presence and expansion in Palestine. When Palestine was occupied militarily, the UN finally found a way by which it could pretend to condemn Israel while ensuring its foundations remained intact. Although the UN has never had any intention of ending the occupation, such rhetoric has allowed the international organization to create alienation out of international law violations. Even as the UN keeps track of all of Israel’s violations against the Palestinian people, its member states prioritize their diplomatic relations with the settler-colonial enterprise. Thus, the UN has become a façade behind which Israel thrives.

Of course, the UN needs to keep up appearances, and it has a willing accomplice in the Palestinian Authority, for which advisory opinions such as this latest one by the ICJ suffice as “action” against Israel. While referring to obligations and duties under international law, the ICJ’s advisory opinions are non-binding. This essentially means that the UN continues to waste precious time for Palestinians as it has done for decades, making advisory opinions seem weighty when it knows that in terms of real value they amount to the same as the UN General Assembly’s non-binding resolutions. If the UN actually needed legal advice on Israel’s military occupation, it would not have waited so long to ask for it. When other countries are under scrutiny, the UN does not ask for advisory opinions; it simply legitimizes foreign intervention which can be seen as the ultimate form of collective political violence.

The UN uses waiting as political violence against the Palestinian people. In the time wasted waiting for the ICJ’s advisory opinion, Israel has been advancing the Abraham Accords with full approval from the international community. The PA, weak as it is and lacking any legitimacy, is scrambling for crumbs to retain control. What part of “States should not render aid or assistance in maintaining the occupation, including financial and business relations,” is too difficult for the international community to understand? Aside from striking deals with Israel, playing with words seems to be the next best thing for UN member states and, indeed, for the organization itself.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger; her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America