Sunday 25 August 2019

Israel’s wall a decade on

For ten years the Netherlands and Europe have been looking away from Israel’s illegal wall, writes former Dutch prime minister Andreas van Agt.

On Wednesday July 9, 2014, it was exactly ten years to the day that the International Court of Justice in The Hague issued an advisory opinion concerning the legality of Israel’s separation wall built in the occupied West Bank.

The highest judicial organ in the world concluded that the construction of the wall on occupied Palestinian land constituted serious and multiple breaches of international law. The Court stated that Israel had to cease its building activities immediately, pull down the existing parts of the wall and make reparation to Palestinians for damage caused.

The International Court of Justice didn’t question Israel’s right to self-defense. The Court merely stated that security concerns do not justify the construction of a wall on occupied Palestinian land, instead of in Israeli territory.

In this context the Court pointed at the relationship between the wall and Israel’s settlement policy. The Court confirmed that the settlements are illegal and implied that the route of the wall was aimed at annexing as many settlements and settlers as possible.

To the Palestinian people and all those committed to finding a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Court’s decision represented a ray of hope. It substituted the might of the strongest with the force of the law.  

Illegal situation

The decision positioned international law as the framework for the assessment of and the approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this regard, the Court referred to the responsibilities of the international community: states may not recognise the illegal situation brought about by the construction of the wall nor support its continued existence.

The Court also called on all contracting parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention to persuade Israel to comply with the convention. Israel has been a party to the treaty since 1951.

On July 20, eleven days after the Court’s decision was issued, a large majority of the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution ES-10/15. In it the Assembly demanded that Israel complies with the legal obligations specified by the Court. 150 member states voted in favour of this resolution, including all EU member states, including the Netherlands.

For a brief time there was hope, but then Europe began to look away. The construction of the wall continued apace and Europe did nothing.

Vital importance

Now, in 2014, the wall penetrates deeply into occupied territory, up to 22 kilometres. East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank, which are of vital importance to the viability of a future Palestinian state, have been de facto annexed. The wall has isolated tens of thousands of Palestinians from their relatives, land, work, schools and hospitals, all because Israel decided to build the wall on occupied Palestinian territory.

Those who look the other way shouldn’t be surprised, ten years after the decision of the International Court of Justice, to find an illegal wall stretching for hundreds of kilometres on occupied Palestinian land to the detriment of the viability of a two-state solution.

Those who look the other way have asked for more than a 100,000 new settlers over the last ten years, resulting in a situation in which more than 560,000 Israeli settlers live on Palestinian land. 

Those who look the other way increase the chances for escalating violence. After all, looking the other way when injustice continues for decades means disregarding and weakening the international legal framework meant to protect citizens. The terrible violence which blighted the lives of Israeli and Palestinian citizens in the not too distant past is testimony to this.

Those who look the other way take away hope. Hope for justice, protection and freedom that the Palestinian people were given ten years ago. The Palestinians took recourse to justice. What more could the Netherlands, the self-declared Legal Capital of the World, want?  

Accountable

What sort of signal are we giving to the Palestinians when we continually block and discourage their access to justice by never holding the occupier accountable for systematically violating international law with serious consequences?

Ten years ago the International Court of Justice stated that the construction of the wall constitutes a serious violation of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. If we don’t take action against this violation, what remains of the credibility of our efforts to promote justice and peace?

Andreas van Agt is a former Dutch prime minister. He is the chairman of The Right Forum. 

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