By Ali Sawafta
The Palestinians on Saturday welcomed a vote by the United Nations General Assembly requesting that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) provide an opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The Hague-based ICJ, also known as the World Court, is the top UN court dealing with disputes between states. Its rulings are binding, though the ICJ has no power to enforce them.
The vote on Friday nonetheless presents a challenge for Israel’s incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took office on Thursday at the head of a hard-right government that includes parties who advocate for occupied West Bank lands to be annexed.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – areas the Palestinians want for a state – in a 1967 war. Peace talks broke down in 2014.
“The time has come for Israel to be a state subject to law, and to be held accountable for its ongoing crimes against our people,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said.
Israeli officials have not yet issued a comment on the vote. It was condemned by Israel’s UN.envoy Gilad Erdan before it was held as the Jewish Sabbath began.
Senior Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh said on Twitter that the vote “reflects the victory of Palestinian diplomacy.” There were 87 members who voted in favour of adopting the request; Israel, the United States and 24 other members voted against; and 53 abstained.
The Palestinians have limited rule in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in a move not recognised internationally. Its settlements in those territories are deemed illegal by most countries, a view Israel disputes citing Biblical and historical ties to the land, as well as security.
The UN General Assembly asked the ICJ to give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation … 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 new Israeli government has pledged to strengthen its settlements in the West Bank but Netanyahu has given no indication of any imminent steps toward annexing them.