the Disillusioned kid: Writing On The Wall
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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Writing On The Wall

The past week or so has seen a resurgence of the controversy over the Israeli "security fence"/"Apartheid Wall". This has been fuelled by the "advisory opinion" of the International Court of Justice (not to be confused with the International Criminal Court, the former is for disputes between states, the latter for cases against individuals) on its legality and the UN General Assembly vote calling for Israel to comply with it. 

I, like most of the world, have no problem with Israel building a wall to prevent or reduce terrorist attacks. If they want to make it a mile high, top it with barbed wire, patrol it on both sides, dig a moat, that's fine with me. I happen not to think it's likely to have the effect its proponents claim (most suicide bombers come from the Gaza Strip, quite apart from those who originate within the more than a illion strong Israeli Arab population living within 'Israel proper'), but that's by the by. The problem is the route which has been chosen. This goes some way into the West Bank and is widely understood as a way of consolidating Israeli control over Palestinian land and resources (including water).

The West Bank was one of the territories along with the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai (later returned to Egypt) captured during the 1967 war. It is almost universally accepted as Palestinian land and would form a Palestinian state, along with Gaza, in a two-state settlement. Many have argued that the wall would form the basis of a border in any future agreement.  

Unsurprisingly the Israeli government have not responded positively to the ruling and subsequent UN vote. They claim, rather bizarrely that only the Israeli High Court has the authority to make rulings on international law. Indeed, that body has already ruled that 30km of the wall northwest of Jerusalem/Al-Quds must be rerouted, because its effect on the Palestinian population in the area. Nonetheless they intend to continue construction of the wall with only limited modifications to its route.

Neither the ICJ ruling nor the General Assembly vote are binding. Only the UN Security Council has the power to impose sanctions or take more serious action and the US would veto any such moves (the five permanent members of the Council have the power to veto any resolution), which means that no-one is likely to even propose such a resolution in the chamber. It is to be hoped that the ruling and vote will increase pressure on Israel, but there is little guarantee that it will have much effect. During the 1980s Nicaragua took the US to the ICJ and obtained a ruling that the superpower's support for Contra paramilitaries, who it was arming, equipping and training to undermine the left-wing Sandinista government, was illegal. The ICJ ruled that the US must cease its actions and compensate Nicaragua. The US, of course, simply ignored the ruling, with the effect that it was consigned to the dustbin of history and it remains little-known outside of dissident circles.

If the Palestinians are unable to have their grievances dealt with satisfactorily in the for a of international law is it any surprise that so many of them support armed resistance to the Israeli action, perhaps even terrorism against civilians? Unless they have some hope of achieving justice through other means, do not the calls of our leaders that they renounce violence sound a little hollow? The primary purpose of the various structures of international law is to reduce the levels of conflict in the world. The preamble to the UN Charter begins, "We the people of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind." Unless there is some hope that the weak and not just the strong can use international law there is little chance of this aim being achieved.

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