by Shawqi Issa
The international community, through the League of Nations' establishment of the British Mandate and then later, the United Nations' creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, was the impetus behind the Palestine-Israel conflict. It is only right and natural then that the international community play an integral role in implementing a solution.
Since the creation of Israel and Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, however, Israel and its allies have successfully prevented the international community from implementing United Nations resolutions and international law. It suits Israel for the Palestinians to remain weak and Israel powerful, with support and protection from the United States and some West European countries, and the silence of the rest of the world. Israel prefers that negotiations be solely bilateral, because a solution based on international law would be legally just--in other words falling short of Israeli needs.
But it is clear that international involvement is required. International law has established strong precedents in this area--that is why this world system was established, to gain control over the ravages of war. Imagine if the United Nations had sent peacekeeping troops here, as it has done in so many other conflicts, to monitor the 1993 Oslo accords and the following agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Israel would never have been able to continue building settlements and illegally transferring its own population into occupied territory, nor would it have been able to kill so many civilians when open confrontations broke out. The situation today, including the measure of trust between the two parties, would be infinitely better.
The first step towards peace in the region is for Israel to implement the 4th Geneva Convention in the occupied territories and for the United Nations to deploy peacekeeping forces, thus protecting Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation and creating the right atmosphere for negotiations. Second, there should be implementation of the only feasible and agreed-upon solution, a two state solution that establishes the State of Palestine on the lands occupied by Israel in 1967, without settlements. But this cannot be achieved without United Nations resolutions and the oversight of the international community.
Otherwise, our future looks grim. Israel has made use of the international community's silence to construct a wall through the occupied West Bank. This wall will implement Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans to enclose Palestinians in half of the West Bank and annex the rest to Israel, transferring those Palestinians that live between the wall and the 1967 borders back further inside the wall and the occupied territories. The Israeli government thinks that, in this way, it can impose its own solution.
In a bid to counteract Israel's immense power, Palestinians lobbied hard in the United Nations General Assembly to have the world body request a legal opinion on the wall from the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The resolution passed, but voting patterns demonstrated how hands-off the international community has become when it comes to Israeli violations of international law. The 27 votes of opposition and the 74 abstentions combined totaled more than the 90 votes in favor of requesting an opinion from the ICJ. The countries that voted with Palestinians were mainly third world countries (still smarting from their own colonizers), while Israel, the Americans and their friends voted against. (European countries decided to abstain.) The reason for this hesitancy is twofold: any matter concerning Israel is handled with kid gloves, as states, particularly European states, fear being accused of anti-Semitism. Second, some countries, including the United States, do not want to see an international precedent made in this case, as they are still "managing" their own colonial problems and do not want the ICJ to interfere.
Still, Palestinians had won a first battle. The international court's involvement was a legal precedent in itself. It will be unable to include political considerations in its ruling, which will be based solely on international law. Any decision based on international law must be against Israeli actions in the occupied territories because Israel has repeatedly and baldly violated the 4th Geneva Convention and other international law statutes. Israel's contention that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are not truly occupied because there was no Palestinian state on the land prior to 1967 has never been supported by the United Nations. Therefore, legally, Israel has no right to build the wall on occupied territory.
The worry is that political games will divert the court from its mission. The Americans, Israelis, and Europeans are working avidly to avoid the ICJ ruling or to delay it for several years. This outcome would demonstrate for all the weakness of the United Nations, the failure of international justice, and the unchecked strength of the United States and Israel. In other words, the Americans and their friends will be anointed as the world's policemen. In a worst case scenario, this negative outcome could very well spell the end of the sovereignty of states encoded in the United Nations system.
The proper way to resolve the Palestine-Israel conflict is to remove Israeli settlements, including the wall, on all of the territory occupied in 1967, and to create a Palestinian state next to Israel. This solution cannot be implemented in a bilateral climate, with the Americans brokering solutions. All states must get involved, and everything must be done through the United Nations. Our problem is a world problem and attempts to force through a one-sided solution will only prolong the agonizing quest for a resolution.-Published 29/1/2004©bitterlemons-international.org
Shawqi Issa is a specialist in international law and legal consultant on the wall for the Palestinian Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PENGON) based in Palestine.