World court asked for opinion on Israeli occupation of West Bank

The National  /  January 21, 2023

Country has condemned the move and said it puts dialogue in jeopardy.

The International Court of Justice has confirmed it officially received a request from the United Nations General Assembly to give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The ICJ is expected to draw up a list of states and organizations that will be able to file written statements, but the statement gave no further information about a timeline for that process.

In previous advisory opinions, the court also scheduled hearings but it is likely to take at least several months before they can be scheduled.

The Hague-based ICJ, also known as the World Court, is the top UN court dealing with disputes between states. Its rulings are binding, although the ICJ has no power to enforce them.

In a move condemned by Israel and welcomed by Palestinians, the General Assembly asked the ICJ last month to give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation … including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures”.

The UN resolution also asks the ICJ to advise on how those policies and practices “affect the legal status of the occupation” and what legal consequences arise for all countries and the United Nations from this status.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the request for a World Court opinion a “despicable decision”.

Israeli envoy to the UN Gilad Erdan called the UN resolution “poisonous and destructive”, and said Palestinians behind the resolution “stabbed a knife in the heart” of any chance at dialogue.

Mr Erdan dismissed UN figures, saying that 2022 as the deadliest year in the West Bank since the Second Intifada uprising from 2000 to 2005.

He said his Palestinian counterpart Riyad Mansour had put on “an Academy Award-winning act of false victimization”.

Mr Mansour said Israeli envoys “live in a parallel dimension where the entire world is wrong and they are right”.

“Peace is still possible, less probable every single day, but still possible,” he added, calling on the Security Council to act.

The ICJ last weighed in on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in 2004, when it ruled that an Israeli separation barrier was illegal.

In the same ruling, the ICJ judges said that Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory “have been established in breach of international law”.

Israel rejected that ruling, accusing the court of being politically motivated.

The news came as the UN’s Middle East Peace Envoy Tor Wennesland told the Security Council that “inflammatory rhetoric” was putting Israeli and Palestinians on a “collision course”.

“Israelis and Palestinians remain on a collision course amid escalating political and inflammatory rhetoric as well as heightened violence in the West Bank,” he said.

He called it “imperative” for both sides to refrain “from provocations and unilateral steps ― including at the Holy sites in Jerusalem ― that undermine… the ability to achieve a negotiated peace”.

On January 3, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited a sensitive Jerusalem holy site, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims, raising a wave of international condemnation.

Mr Wennesland told the Security Council he is “very concerned about the impact” on the finances of the Palestinian Authority from a series of retaliatory sanctions that Israel imposed after the UN resolution requesting an ICJ opinion.

Mr Netanyahu’s government slapped a series of sanctions on the Palestinian Authority following the UN vote that freezes construction plans in the West Bank and transferred tens of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax revenue collected by Israel to the families of Israeli victims of attacks by Palestinians.