UN General Assembly seeks court ruling on Israel's actions in Palestinian areas

International Court of Justice asked to rule on continued occupation of Palestinian territories and construction of settlements there

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour thanked countries that voted in favour of investigating Israel. AP
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The UN General Assembly on Friday voted to seek the opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of Israel's policies in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Assembly voted 87-26 in favour of the move, with 53 abstentions. Western nations were divided over support for the resolution, but there was virtually unanimous support from the Islamic world, including Arab states that have normalised relations with Israel, as well as from Russia and China.

The resolution calls on the UN court in The Hague to determine the "legal consequences arising from the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination" as well as of its measures "aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status" of the holy city of Jerusalem.

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour thanked countries that backed the measure, which was passed a day after the installation of Israel's most right-wing government since it became a state in 1948.

“We trust that regardless of your vote today, if you believe in international law and peace, you will uphold the opinion of the International Court of Justice, when delivered,” Mr Mansour said.

He urged countries to “stand up” to Israel’s new government.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also welcomed the vote.

"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," presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said.

While the rulings of the UN's highest judicial body are not binding, they influence international opinion. It last addressed the conflict in 2004, when the Assembly asked it to consider the legality of the Israeli-built separation barrier.

Israel did not speak at the Assembly, which voted during the Jewish Sabbath. In a written statement issued beforehand, Ambassador Gilad Erdan called the measure “outrageous”, the UN “morally bankrupt and politicised”, and said any potential decision from the court would be “completely illegitimate.”

Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians are seeking an independent state comprising all three areas, as well as the West Bank and Gaza, for an independent state.

Israel considers the West Bank to be disputed territory and has built dozens of settlements that are now home to roughly 500,000 Jewish settlers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was sworn in for a sixth term on Thursday, has previously threatened to annex the territory. His Likud party has listed West Bank settlements as a top priority for his coalition government.

Israel also has annexed East Jerusalem and considers the entire city to be its capital. An additional 200,000 Israelis now live in settlements built in occupied East Jerusalem, while Palestinian residents of the city face systematic discrimination, making it difficult for them to build new homes or expand existing ones.

The international community overwhelmingly considers Israeli settlements to be illegal. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, home to the city’s most sensitive holy sites, also is not internationally recognised.

Friday’s resolution asked the International Court of Justice, commonly known as the world court, to issue an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israeli measures that it said were “aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem”.

And it asks for an opinion on how all Israeli policies affect the legal status of its occupation, “and what are the legal consequences that arise for all states and the United Nations from this status.”

Israel has accused the Palestinians, who have non-member observer state status at the UN, of trying to use the world body to circumvent peace negotiations and impose a settlement.

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The Palestinians say that Israeli officials, especially Mr Netanyahu, are not serious about seeking peace as they continue to expand settlements on occupied lands. The last round of substantive peace talks broke down in 2009.

The UN court is expected to solicit opinions from dozens of countries before issuing its opinion months from now. Israel has not said whether it will co-operate.

It is not the first time the world court has been asked to weigh in on the conflict.

In 2004, the court said that the separation barrier Israel built was “contrary to international law” and called on it to immediately halt construction.

Israel has said the barrier is a security measure meant to prevent Palestinian attackers from reaching Israeli cities. The Palestinians say the structure is an Israeli land grab because of its route through East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.

Israel has ignored the 2004 ruling, and Friday’s resolution demands that Israel comply with it, stop construction of the wall and dismantle it. It says Israel should also make reparations for all damage caused by the wall’s construction, “which has gravely impacted the human rights” and living conditions of Palestinians.

The request for the court’s advisory opinion is part of a wide-ranging resolution titled “Israeli practices and settlement activities affecting the rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories”.

Updated: December 31, 2022, 9:47 AM