UAE's UN ambassador Lana Nusseibeh's full statement to ICJ

Ambassador Nusseibeh urged the world to support Palestinian rights and two-state solution

Lana Nusseibeh: 'Israel's illegal acts cannot remain without consequence'

Lana Nusseibeh: 'Israel's illegal acts cannot remain without consequence'
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The UAE's ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Lana Nusseibeh, addressed the International Court of Justice on Wednesday.

The proceedings before the ICJ centred on Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Ambassador Nusseibeh's full statement is reproduced here:

Mr President, distinguished Members of the Court, it is an honour and privilege to appear before you on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. The gravity of the situation we are called to address has compelled the UAE to participate in advisory proceedings for the first time in its history.

Allow me to begin by affirming the UAE’s recognition of the importance of the Court’s advisory function in clarifying applicable legal frameworks, contributing to peaceful relations between States. This is critical at a time of growing polarisation over when and how international law is applied. International law cannot be an a la carte menu; it must apply equally to all. And it is all the more essential in the long shadow cast by the Palestinian question: an injustice that has persisted for more than seven decades, and which implicates the most fundamental principles of the international system — of self-determination, of human rights, and of our most basic and universal yearning for peace, justice, and freedom.

By responding to the General Assembly’s request to render an advisory opinion, the Court will tangibly assist the Assembly’s proper exercise of its functions in relation to the question of Palestine. It will also contribute to achieving a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict, including by preserving the parameters of the two-State solution to which Member States have collectively subscribed. This is vital not only for Palestinians and Israelis, but for peace and stability in our region and beyond.

The UAE strongly believes that the only path to that just and lasting peace is through the fulfilment of the long-denied right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, with an independent and sovereign Palestine based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side-by-side with Israel. That right to self-determination and the duty of every member of the international community to co-operate in its fulfilment was expressly recognised in this Court’s advisory opinion of 2004.

Mr President, rather than repeat the UAE’s written statement of July 2023, I will elaborate on five key points here today.

UAE condemns ‘disproportionate, cruel, and inhumane attacks’ by Israel on Gaza

UAE condemns ‘disproportionate, cruel, and inhumane attacks’ by Israel on Gaza

My first point addresses the significance of this advisory opinion to the realisation of the two-state solution. In so doing, I wish to respond to the claim that in providing an advisory opinion the Court would hinder the negotiating process. I will then direct my second submission to the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since the written stage of these proceedings. Third, I will devote some time to East Jerusalem and Israel’s violations there, including its annexation of territory and its undermining of the legal and historic status quo. Israel’s violations in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and in the Gaza Strip, imperil the two-state solution. The conclusion that flows from these violations is that Israel’s occupation is illegal. This will be my fourth point. Finally, I will focus on the consequences of Israel’s unlawful actions: for Israel, for all states, and for the United Nations.

The two-state solution

I will now address the first point: the two-state solution.

The General Assembly and the Security Council, through dozens of resolutions, have entrenched the two-state solution as the basis for peace. This vision necessarily includes the Gaza Strip as part of the Palestinian State, as reaffirmed most recently by the Security Council in resolution 2720 of 22 December 2023.

The viability of this vision of peace and of an independent Palestinian State are imperilled by Israeli violations that are the subject of the present proceedings. Since the General Assembly’s request to the Court in December 2022, these violations and the level of violence have risen sharply.

We convene today while Israel’s grave violations against Palestinians persist with impunity, four months into its military operation in Gaza and following four failures by the Security Council to call for a ceasefire. Meanwhile, an increasingly brutal Israeli regime of systemic subjugation in the West Bank compounds Palestinian suffering. The horrors that have unfolded over the last few months, the 7 October attack on Israel, the destruction of the Gaza Strip, and the oppression in the West Bank underscore the desperate need for realising the two-state solution. In the context of this grim reality, the Court’s advisory opinion is appropriate, it is urgent, and it is necessary.

Far from prejudicing the negotiating framework, the Court’s opinion will reinforce the contours of the two-state solution. Indeed, that solution must be consistent with international law. In the Wall opinion, the Court recognised that a negotiated solution and the establishment of a Palestinian State, alongside Israel, must be on the basis of international law. This is also what the Security Council reaffirmed most recently in Resolution 2720.

These pronouncements make clear that a negotiating process could not, and must not, lead to a result that is contrary to international law. And, it is self-evident that a negotiating process that results in the contravention of peremptory norms of general international law would be void. By their very nature peremptory norms are non-negotiable. The fact that a solution is negotiated does not mean that it should be non-principled.

By responding to the questions posed by the General Assembly as regards Israel’s violations and their consequences, the Court will be advising on legal questions directly relevant to the two-state solution. In so doing, the Court will aid efforts to realise the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. This could not be more pressing.

Moreover, as the State of Palestine observed in its oral statement on Monday, the Court’s exercise of its advisory function can and has served to advance deadlocked negotiations, as occurred with its Chagos opinion. There is a similar need for the Court’s advice on the Palestinian question, which is characterised by prolonged stalemate and frustrated negotiations while Israel continues to change facts on the ground.

Escalating violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

Mr President, the 56 years of occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have been shaped by Israel’s consistent grave violations against the Palestinian people. The UAE is confident that the Court has before it ample evidence to assist its identification of those violations and determination of their legal consequences. As I turn to my second point, I will outline briefly how the situation has severely deteriorated since July 2023.

Under international law, the Gaza Strip is occupied territory. Gaza is also one of the most densely populated places on Earth.

For over four months now, and after enduring 17 years of blockade, its population of over 2.2 million has been under siege, faced with severe restrictions on water, food and other essential goods. The level of human suffering faced by civilians in Gaza, primarily women and children, is on a scale seldom seen in the modern era.

Lana Nusseibeh decries death toll of women and children in Gaza

Lana Nusseibeh decries death toll of women and children in Gaza

Israel’s indiscriminate attacks on the Gaza Strip have caused massive civilian casualties and the extensive destruction of homes, schools and hospitals. Some 75 per cent of Gaza’s total population is displaced. I note here, Mr President, the latest orders issued to the Israeli Defence Forces to plan for the evacuation of Rafah ahead of another military offensive. That offensive would leave the approximately 1.5 million displaced Gazans taking refuge in the city with nowhere to go. These plans have been met with the international community’s resounding rejection.

Israel has imposed a policy of collective punishment against the Palestinian people, in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel has repeatedly issued so-called evacuation orders that in effect seek to transfer Palestinians forcibly, in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israel has also failed its duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population in Gaza, in violation of Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel has further failed to protect the wounded and sick, in violation of Article 16 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Each passing day is met with further violations of international humanitarian law.

And while the eyes of the world are trained on its brutal military operation in Gaza, Israel’s violations in the West Bank have intensified. As submitted to the Court, a number of Israeli acts in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, constitute grave breaches under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israel’s conduct also violates the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, which lies at the heart of these proceedings.

Lana Nusseibeh to ICJ: 'Level of human suffering in Gaza on scale rarely seen in modern era'

Lana Nusseibeh to ICJ: 'Level of human suffering in Gaza on scale rarely seen in modern era'

2023 was by far the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the United Nations began keeping records — more than tripling the previous high in 2022.

2023 also saw the highest levels of settler violence yet recorded by the United Nations. The freedom of movement of Palestinians has been severely impacted, including for Palestinian farmers seeking to harvest their lands in the West Bank.

Demolitions of Palestinian property also reached their highest levels. This puts into stark relief the magnitude of this latest iteration of the Israeli settlement enterprise that erodes key components of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, including the denial of access to ancestral lands and control over natural resources.

In addition, there has been an intensification of Israeli settlement construction that undermines the viability of the two-state solution. According to the Secretary General, 2023 saw the highest reported level of Israeli approvals and support for settler housing in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

I raise these recent developments to underline that the violations at the core of the questions posed by the General Assembly are not static. After decades of violent dehumanisation, dispossession and despair, the breaches resulting from the Israeli occupation in all parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territory are worsening at an alarming pace.

Israel’s violations in East Jerusalem

I will now focus on Israel’s longstanding violations in East Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is “a city of unique cultural and religious depth and texture” that has occupied, through history, a place “at the crossroads of cultures and civilisations”.

The City of Jerusalem has the unique feature of being sacred for all three Abrahamic religions and is home to a host of Holy Places. This feature has put a special imprint on the city’s character. And the international community has accordingly underlined the need to preserve Jerusalem’s unique spiritual and religious dimensions.

If Jerusalem has, throughout its long history, represented one thing, it is tolerance. In the words of Unesco, “[m]ore than any other place in the world, Jerusalem embodies the hope and dream of dialogue between cultures, civilisations and spiritual traditions, a dialogue through which mutual understanding between peoples may flourish”.

Such is the unique historical nature of Jerusalem that an Israeli official once cautioned that “[a]nyone depriving Jerusalem of these contrasts, anyone upsetting the equilibrium by trying to make one factor predominant over another … would make Jerusalem cease to be herself”.

Jerusalem is a place of enormous significance to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. On account of their artistic, religious, and historical value, the Old City and the Holy Places are of exceptional importance to all humanity.

Jerusalem’s unique character has given rise to specific legal obligations as regards the rights of religious communities, including “specific guarantees of access to the Christian, Jewish and Islamic Holy Places”.

Since 1757, it has been the case that whoever holds Jerusalem is bound by this legal and historic status quo.

As early as 1948, the Security Council urged all Governments and authorities concerned “to take every possible precaution for the protection of the Holy Places and of the City of Jerusalem, including access to all shrines and sanctuaries for the purpose of worship”.

The concerns that motivated the Council then still remain.

In 2023, the Security Council called “for upholding unchanged the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem in word and in practice”.

Israel has, in agreements with Jordan and with the Holy See, committed to the historic status quo and freedom of access to the Holy Places in Jerusalem. In the Wall opinion, the Court relied on such bilateral agreements, observing that they were part of the specific guarantees of access to Holy Places.

It is therefore gravely disconcerting that Israel has taken, and continues to take, measures which undermine the special character of Jerusalem and erase its cultural heritage.

Israel is in breach of its obligations by repeatedly interfering with the Holy Places and hindering freedom of access to them. Since the start of the occupation in 1967, Muslims and Christians have been impeded from worshipping at their holiest sites.

Also in breach of the historic status quo are Israel’s excavations in Jerusalem. Excavations and tunnelling, particularly in and around the Old City, imperil its historical, cultural and religious character. The works are carried out despite the serious risks to the integrity of Muslim and Christian Holy Places. The General Assembly has determined that these acts are flagrant violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Turning to the question of settlements, the “ring” settlements in East Jerusalem contribute to “the further isolation of the city from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory”.

They thereby undermine the viability of East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian State. This is fast becoming a fait accompli.

Mr President, Israel’s measures to extend its administration and laws to East Jerusalem are inconsistent with the most fundamental tenets of the law of occupation and the right to self-determination. Indeed, Israel’s administration of East Jerusalem constitutes annexation of territory on which the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination. International law is unequivocal in this respect: all measures by Israel that affect or aim to alter the status of East Jerusalem are null and void and have no legal effect on its status.

By Resolution 478 of 1980, the Security Council affirmed that Israel’s enactment of the Basic Law was a violation of international law. Resolution 478 was plainly intended to be legally binding on Israel and all UN Member States. A binding determination by the Security Council to the effect that a situation is illegal must have consequences.

As the Court noted in the Namibia opinion, “it would be failing in the discharge of its judicial functions if it did not declare that there is an obligation … to bring such a situation to an end.”

Israel’s violations in East Jerusalem and throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory threaten the viability of the two-state solution and go to the very nature of the occupation.

Israel’s occupation is illegal

It is in this context that I come to the legality of the occupation itself. The Security Council reaffirmed in 1980 “the overriding necessity for ending the prolonged occupation of Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967”.

The General Assembly has declared that “the Arab territories occupied since 1967 have continued … to be under illegal Israeli occupation”.

Israel’s occupation is — as the vast majority of participants in these proceedings have recognised — illegal and must end. Israel’s occupation breaches the requirement, under the law of occupation, that an occupation must be temporary and cannot become permanent.

UAE ambassador tells ICJ Israel's occupation must end

UAE ambassador tells ICJ Israel's occupation must end

It is in breach of the cardinal principle, enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, that the acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible. Israel’s occupation furthermore violates peremptory norms of general international law, such as the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.

Mr President, whether the illegality of Israel’s occupation is determined under general international law or under the Charter, the conclusion is the same: it is illegal.

Israel’s illegal acts cannot remain without consequence. Which takes me to my last point.

Legal consequences

Mr President, distinguished Members of the Court, I will now address the legal consequences of the ongoing violations by Israel.

I wish to draw the Court’s attention to the obligations identified by the Court in the Chagos and Wall opinions. First, Israel has, inter alia: an obligation to comply with the primary obligations it has breached; an obligation to ensure cessation of those breaches; and an obligation to make reparation for the damage caused by those breaches. Let me illustrate these obligations with a few examples.

This means that Israel must cease all policies and practices impeding the exercise of the Palestinian right to self-determination, and repeal all laws and regulations that aim to alter the demographic composition, character and status of East Jerusalem. It also means that Israel must ensure freedom of access to the Holy Places and respect the legal and historic status quo.

This means that Israel must comply with all its obligations as the occupying Power in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. For example, Israel must bring into the Gaza Strip the necessary food and medical supplies to the Palestinian population, and it must end its siege and all practices depriving Palestinians of supplies essential to their survival. In practical terms, it must mean a ceasefire.

It also means that Israel must stop its so-called evacuation orders and forcible transfers of Palestinians. It means that Israel must dismantle settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and must prevent violence perpetrated by settlers — many of them armed — against Palestinians. And it means that Israel must put an end to its settlement activities, its confiscation of land, demolition of homes, and the transfer of new Israeli settlers to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Finally, Israel must also comply with all decisions of the Security Council, in line with Article 25 of the UN Charter. This includes the binding decisions in Resolutions 478, 2334, 2712 and 2720.

The UAE further submits that the erga omnes and jus cogens character of norms violated by Israel also give rise to obligations for all States. First, no State may recognise as lawful the situation resulting from Israel’s unlawful conduct nor render assistance to maintain such a situation. Second, States are under an obligation to co-operate to bring to an end Israel’s serious breaches. Additionally, States parties to the Geneva Conventions must ensure respect for those Conventions.

These obligations may translate into different actions from one State to another. The UAE believes that diplomatic engagement and dialogue can be effective tools to encourage compliance and cessation of unlawful conduct. But where these tools fail, third States’ obligations remain, as do the other instruments of the international system, including the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the Court that sits in this Great Hall of Justice.

As the Permanent Representative of a country that has just completed its term on the Security Council, I wish to invite the Court to consider the following: the obligations to co-operate and to ensure respect for international law carry implications for States in the exercise of their vote in the Security Council. Voting against or preventing the adoption of a Security Council resolution that seeks to put an end to serious breaches of international law cannot be compatible with such obligations.

Israel’s violations also have implications for international organisations. The organs of the United Nations can and should take all steps within their respective mandates with a view to ensuring an end to those violations. The UAE remains firmly committed to play its part in supporting the principles of international law which underpin the international system.

The UAE considers that the Court’s advice on the questions before it is critical. Indeed, we believe it matters for all States — large and small — who rely upon and seek to preserve our international order. The reason it matters is quite simple: the even-handed application of international law is essential if that order is to function. To allow otherwise, to permit States to pick and choose what international law to apply and when, risks destabilising our international order.

Conclusion

Mr President, distinguished Members of the Court, the Palestinian people have suffered for far too long under an occupation that is seemingly immune from international law. Palestinians and Israelis deserve to thrive, side by side, in their own independent, prosperous, and secure States. This cannot happen if Israel’s violations persist. Peace will remain elusive while the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination continues to be denied. The UAE has every confidence that the Court’s opinion will contribute significantly towards achieving a peaceful resolution of this conflict in accordance with international law.

Updated: February 22, 2024, 2:51 AM