ICJ to discuss legality of Israel’s occupation of Palestine in landmark case that could have far-reaching ramifications

ICJ to discuss legality of Israel’s occupation of Palestine in landmark case that could have far-reaching ramifications
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will convene next week for oral hearings on Israel’s policies and practices during its 57-year long occupation.
4 min read
16 February, 2024
The International Court of Justice will convene next week for hearings on Israel's occupation [Vyacheslav Prokofyev/TASS/Getty]

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague will convene on Monday 19 February for a week of hearings on Israel's 57-year-long occupation of Palestinian territories.

An unprecedented number of states are set to participate in the ICJ hearings on the legal consequences of Israel's policies and practices in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including Gaza, the West Bank, and  East Jerusalem.

The proceedings are distinct from the case South Africa brought to The Hague accusing Israel of breaching the Genocide Convention concerning its assault on Gaza.

52 states are due to participate as well as three institutions: the Arab League, the African Union (AU), and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

"The International Court of Justice is set for the first time to broadly consider the legal consequences of Israel's nearly six-decades-long occupation and mistreatment of the Palestinian people," said Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch.

Next week's hearings follow stages where written submissions and comments were submitted by participating states in August and September last year.

Israel's occupation under scrutiny

The current proceedings follow the UN General Assembly requesting an advisory opinion from the ICJ in December 2022 on two issues.

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The first issue concerns "the legal consequences arising from the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination" and "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".

The second issue relates to how the policies and practices of Israel referred to [above] affect the legal status of the occupation and the legal consequences that arise for all states and the UN from this status.

During the hearings next week, each state will deliver a 30-minute presentation to the court judges.

The opening statement will be presented by the Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad al-Maliki on behalf of the State of Palestine. This will be followed by members of the Palestinian legal team.

Riyad Mansour, Palestine's ambassador to the UN, will reportedly be in the Palestinian delegation, which will hold a press conference on the opening day of the sessions.

Several Arab states will be participating, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, the UAE, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Iraq.

The US, the UK, and Hungary are also participating. They are expected to intervene to defend the Israeli side, in line with the written statements they submitted to the court for the first and second stages of the case.

Guatemala has withdrawn from the proceedings after having also made submissions defending Israel. Likewise, Argentina also withdrew after the election of the new pro-Israel Argentinian president Javier Milei.

Historic precedent

In 2004, the ICJ gave an advisory opinion regarding Israel's apartheid wall, where it ruled that the wall was illegal and requested that Israel dismantle it.

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However, it didn't adopt any practical measures to implement the ruling, or to prevent the involvement of international companies and institutions in the process of building the wall.

Shawan Jabarin, the General Director of Al-Haq, spoke to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed -- The New Arab's Arabic sister outlet - about the importance of the ICJ's advisory opinion:

"One of the known roles of the ICJ is to give advisory opinions based on international law, which are admissible and binding upon institutions like the UN Security Council, this is what happened with all previous advisory opinions, including those which were against the US like the case of Nicaragua […] where Nicaragua was granted [the right to] financial compensation from the US".

He added: "It is customary for some states to disregard international law, however, this opinion, if approved by the International Court of Justice, will have important effects to the advantage of Palestinians, and will have weight in front of the courts, institutions and states".  

The director of Al-Haq (a Palestinian legal rights organisation), which was involved in working on the case, called for "the issue to be put in front of the Security Council after its approval, despite expectations of the US veto which will be used heavily to defend the Israeli occupation."

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Jabarin pointed out that "Palestine has become a test for international law and a yardstick to judge its fulfilment in our time".

He called for "work to be done on a collection of extremely important decisions” so that defined steps could be set out regarding the issue “with the goal of implementing and respecting international law".

The ICJ is expected to issue its advisory opinion before the end of 2024.