52 States address ICJ hearing on Israel’s practices in Palestine

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No fewer than 52 States and three International Organisations have provided comments and presentations on the legal consequences of  Israel’s policies and practices in Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The UN correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the states made their presentations during the public hearing at the International Court of Justice, based on the UN General Assembly’s request for an advisory opinion.

The hearing, which began on Monday, is expected to close on Feb. 26.

Filed before the ongoing four-month-old war in Gaza began, the case triggered heated commentary even before the court’s president, Judge Nawaf Salam, opened the hearings.

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The General Assembly submitted two specific questions to the World Court in its December 2022 request.

The questions are “What are the legal consequences arising from the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, from its prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, 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?”

“How do the policies and practices of Israel affect the legal status of the occupation, and what are the legal consequences that arise for all States and the United Nations from this status?”

Palestine in its three hours presentation during the public hearing, accused Israel of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, killings and displacement of Palestinians.

Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki began by saying, “I stand before you as 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, half of them children, are besieged and bombed, killed and maimed, starved and displaced, as more than 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are subjected to colonization of their territory and the racist violence…”

He also said successive governments in Israel have left only three choices to Palestinians  –  displacement, subjugation or death.

Riyad added that the choices are for them to choose ethnic cleansing, apartheid or genocide.

The foreign minister said it is of “moral, political and legal imperative” to bring “an end to Israel’s impunity”.

“Our people are here to stay…and they will not forsake their rights,” the Palestinian foreign minister added during the submission.

South Africa had filed a separate complaint with the ICJ in December 2023 against Israel for “genocide in Gaza” – for which the court already issued provisional measures.

Vusimuzi Madonsela, the country’s ambassador to the Netherlands, told the court that after “decades of apartheid settler colonialism, a just solution for all who legally qualify to live in historical Palestine would need to be negotiated with the assistance of the international community”.

Drawing a parallel between the situation in Palestine and the struggle of South Africans against apartheid, an “institutionalised regime of discriminatory laws”, he said current practices ensure “Israeli-Jewish domination”.

In this vein, he called for the “immediate, unconditional and total withdrawal of Israeli troops” from the occupied territories.

The Chilean representative said that Israel “neither regards itself nor behaves as a temporary occupant”, and its practices amount to “annexation”.

He also recalled that Chile is home to the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East and a large Jewish community, the third largest in Latin America.

Sharing borders with both Gazans and Israelis, Egypt challenged Israel’s use of the right to self-defence.

“The argument that a State may exercise self-defence against a territory under its own military occupation and effective control is counter-intuitive,” Jasmine Moussa, legal advisor to Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Minister’s Office, said.

He added that Israel committed a “war of aggression” in 1967 and then continued “decades of occupation” contrary to international law.

“Israel cannot invoke self-defence to maintain a situation created by its own illegal conduct,” she continued, underscoring the seriousness of the current situation, including in Rafah.

Diego Colas, Director of Legal Affairs at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, said though Israel has the “right to defend itself”, this right must be exercised in strict compliance with international law, and in particular, the international humanitarian law.

He said France has clearly, consistently and repeatedly affirmed this demand as Israeli operations and bombings continue to create thousands of civilian victims in Gaza.

“Respect for international law, in particular international humanitarian law, by all stakeholders is the only possible horizon of peace,” he said.

Turning to other concerns, the France’s representative condemned Israel’s colonization policy, which has accelerated since 2004, as well as comments promoting the installation of colonies in Gaza and the transfer of the Gazan population “out of this territory”, which would constitute “a very serious violation” of international law.

As for reparations, he emphasised that “France considers that this obligation extends to all damage done to the Palestinian population” by proceeding with “restitutions and, failing that, compensation”.

Brazil’s representative insisted on the need to move towards a negotiated two-State solution in “one of the most pressing unresolved conflicts on the international agenda since decades”.

He underlined that the importance of the questions raised by the General Assembly and the gravity of the situation were indisputable even before October 7.

“The tragic events of that date and the disproportionate and indiscriminate military operations that followed, however, show clearly that the mere management of the conflict cannot be considered an option,” the delegate said.

“The two-State solution, with an economically viable Palestinian State living side by side with Israel, is the only way to bring peace and security to the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

The United States said it is in favour of a political settlement within the framework established by the UN.

Richard Visek, legal advisor to the Department of State, said stakeholders must return to the framework set by the Security Council and the UN General Assembly to resolve the conflict – a two-State solution – and highlighted the ICJ’s role in preserving this framework so as to make a negotiated solution a realistic possibility.

According to him, U.S. efforts aims not only to address the current crisis, but to advance a political settlement that will lead to a durable peace in the region that includes lasting security for Israeli and Palestinian and a path to Palestinian statehood.

“The occupation must come to an end,” Vladimir Tarabrin, Russia’s ambassador to the Netherlands said, advocating for a two-State negotiated solution and pointing to both the “persistent denial by Israel to the right of self-determination” and “the colonisation policy pursued by Israel since 1967”.

He said more than 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and Israel’s settlement activities gained record-breaking speed in 2023, citing the latest report of the UN Secretary-General on the matter.

The report noted that plans for more than 24,700 housing units were advanced, approved or tendered – more than double the figure from the previous year.

“This has effectively undermined the prospects of a negotiated solution,” he said, adding that Russia hopes the ICJ can contribute to a solution to the conflict by stipulating that both parties “are under the obligation” to resume peace negotiations. (NAN)

By Cecilia Ologunagba

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