Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Granted Impunity from International Law, Israel Continues to Build, Bomb and Kill

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Granted Impunity from International Law, Israel Continues to Build, Bomb and Kill

Article excerpt

"JUSTICE DELAYED is justice denied," notes the old maxim. It has now been five years since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on Israel's building of its wall through the West Bank. While it certainly broke no new legal ground, the ICJ reaffirmed the binding decisions of the U.N. Security Council on the status of the occupied territories and the application to them of the internationally accepted Geneva Conventions. The construction of the wall on Israel's side of the Green Line would have been legal, but building it on occupied land violates international law.

It is interesting to recall that many of the news outlets immediately passed on the Israeli take on the ruling-that the court's opinion was "not binding."

This is as preposterous now as it was in 2004. The world's most definitive international juridical body states the international law on the case, based on flawless precedents and Security Council judgments-of course it is binding! The real problem is the lack of political will to enforce the law, which is an entirely separate issue.

When I drive, I wear a seat belt, not because I am scared of the minimal chances of a fine from the N.Y. State troopers, but because it is a sensible thing to do. When I see defenseless old ladies out on their own on quiet streets, I refrain from mugging them, not because I might get caught, but because mugging is wrong. What makes a civilized society, globally as well as nationally, is the acceptance by the overwhelming majority of people that the rule of law is something we apply to ourselves without the need for coercion. It is not the fear of arrest and punishment that keeps us law-abiding, but our own commitment to civilized society.

Israel, of course, has defense in depth, but of flimsy substance, against the Court's conclusions-something along the lines of "the dog ate our attorneys' brief." It does not consider the ICJ ruling binding and, in any case, disagrees with its conclusions. Despite the clear decisions of the U.N. and opinions even of Israel's closest ally that the territories are undisputedly occupied, Israel insists that they are not occupied, but "disputed." It is as if Bernie Madoff denied that the law prevented him from making off with his clients' money.

The real problem is the lack of political will to enforce the law.

Indeed, even before the ICJ ruling, in 1993 at Oslo, Israel pledged that "negotiations on the permanent status will lead to the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973)." And, regardless of its reservations about everyone else's interpretation of law, at its commitment to the Quartet "road map" Israel renewed its promise to not expand settlements and to close "illegal" outposts. In fact, the "outposts"-with their electricity, water, roads and security provided by government departments-are no more or less illegal than the settlements themselves. In any case, apart from a few token towings of trailers, the promises on outposts have been flouted, while each successive Israeli government continues to expand settlements and build new ones around Jerusalem.

Perversely, the response of the international community, or at least the Western component thereof, to Israel's breach of promise and law has been to boycott the legally elected Palestinian Hamas government and to treat Israel as the victimized party even as it breaks repeated promises to allow goods transit into Gaza.

Another Opportunity for Impunity

That sense of impunity resurfaced for the Gaza invasion. Quite apart from any alleged war crimes against Palestinians, the U.N. inquiry team documented extensive violations of the United Nations status in Gaza. This should have come as no surprise, since it followed similar depredations against the U.N. post and staff at Qana in 1996. In each case, one is led to the conclusion that such crimes were the result of IDF personnel who a) were incompetent and unfit to handle weaponry, b) were acting vindictively, confident of their impunity, or c) were obeying the orders of superior officers. …

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