Arab officials attend ICJ hearings to pile pressure on Israel

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi will be among those to address sessions in The Hague

This week's hearings are separate from the war in Gaza but could intensify international opposition to Israel's military onslaught. EPA
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Arab officials, including Ayman Safadi, Jordan's Foreign Minister, will participate in legal hearings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague this week to increase pressure on Israel to end the Gaza war.

The court hearings began on Monday, with judges aiming to reach an advisory opinion on Israel’s conduct in the Palestinian territories it has occupied since 1967, including Gaza, where the current Israeli invasion has killed more than 29,000 people, according to Palestinian health officials.

The war started on October 7 with attacks on southern Israel by Hamas and other militant groups supported by Iran that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

This week's hearings are separate from thewar in Gaza and not related to South Africa's accusation that Israel is committing genocide in the enclave.

Impact of violations

Representatives of 15 Arab countries are among the 52 nations that will be speak at The Hague, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Jordanian political researcher Hazem Ayyad said the carnage in Gaza would help Arab countries emphasise the impact of Israeli violations across the occupied territories.

These include the siege of the enclave, demographic pressures in the occupied West Bank caused by illegal Israeli settlements, land seizures and restrictions on East Jerusalem residents.

"Basically, under international law, it is illegitimate for Israel to lift even a stone in the areas it occupies," Mr Ayyad said.

The sessions are being held in response to a resolution by the General Assembly in December 2022 that asked the court to advise on "legal consequences arising from the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination", as well as the physical occupation of the land.

It cited "prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967".

The resolution, which is not legally binding, also said Israel has been taking measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem flashpoint

In Amman, Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Sufian Al Qudah said the government had contracted an external legal team to help Jordan "affirm the need for Israel to respect the existing historic and legal situation of Jerusalem".

Jerusalem could become the focal point of renewed diplomacy if the US succeeds in relaunching Middle East negotiations after the war. The occupied, eastern part of Jerusalem is of special importance to Jordan, because the Hashemite monarchy claims custodianship over Al Aqsa Mosque and other holy sites there.

Jordan has also been warning the Gaza war may spread to the West Bank, resulting in a new batch of Palestinian refugees entering the kingdom.

Egypt will also make a statement at the six-day sessions. Cairo fears an Israeli advance into Rafah, perceived as the last major holdout of Hamas, could result in a Palestinian exodus into the Sinai.

In contrast to Egypt, which has played a central role in the diplomatic talks on Gaza, the Lebanese contribution to the ICJ is not expected to be "particularly striking”, said Karim Bitar, an associate research fellow at the Institute for International and Strategic Affairs in Paris.

“I suppose it will be essentially just tongue in cheek and rather in line with the Arab League's discourse,” said Mr Bitar. Lebanese foreign policy is “swallowed up by Hezbollah and by the play of regional powers", he added.

Meanwhile, veteran constitutional law professor Slim Laghmani will deliver a statement on behalf of Tunis. Last month, the Tunisian Foreign Ministry said it hoped the ICJ advisory would result in "unveiling Israel's usurping and colonial face".

Diaa Rashwan, head of the Egyptian State Information Service, said Egypt's representatives would "demand that the court acknowledges Israel's responsibility for illegal actions".

He cited "persecution, racial discrimination, forced evictions, annexing land and the demolition of Palestinian homes".

Egypt and Jordan are major recipients of US aid and have peace treaties with Israel, signed in 1978 and 1994, respectively. The two countries have vehemently denounced the invasion of Gaza.

But they have been talking to the US about post-conflict scenarios, based on a diminished Hamas and a possible Arab role in stabilisation.

Ghaya Ben Mbarek reported from Tunis, Hamza Hendawi from Cairo and Nada Homsi from Beirut

Updated: February 19, 2024, 3:35 PM