The wait is over. The International Court of Justice at The Hague has finally ruled on Israel's Separation Wall, kicking the ball out of its court, and into that of all major players in the Arab-Israeli conflict. But the question remains: Will the historic decision of July 9, 2004 become another memento of United Nations incompetence, US and Israeli arrogance and Arab political worthlessness?
"The construction of the wall and its associated regimes are contrary to international law," read the document of the ruling, leaving little room for intentional misinterpretation.
The ruling was convincing, not only because of the clarity and meticulousness of the language used, but also because there was a near consensus on all the provisions it entailed. Only the American judge Thomas Buerghenthal opposed the ruling, in an obvious, albeit disheartening loyalty to political considerations than to the legal substance of the matter.
The ICJ ruling went even further than expected: "All states are under obligations not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall." The court has successfully contextualized the wall within the framework of the overall conflict, in which the wall is only one disturbing product. Thus it reminded Israel that it's "bound to comply with its obligations to respect the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and its obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law."
The ruling of the world's most respected and presumably influential legal body has illuminated the legal perception of the now formally illegal Israeli wall. But it doubtlessly achieved more than that.
First, it re-shifted attention back to international law as the only viable frame of reference to solving world conflicts, rendering irrelevant all that resulted from political coercing imposed on Palestinians through the US and Israel, and that resulting from imprudence of the Palestinian Authority itself.
Second, it restated the historic and political relevancy of past United Nations resolutions, particularly 242, which demands an Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.
Third, it reminded the international community and major signatories of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 of their obligations under international law, holding them accountable to any transgression upon Palestinian rights or the direct or indirect support of those who violate these rights.
Finally, it pulled from underneath the feet of Arab and Muslim countries, including the Palestinian leadership the rug of reliance on the incompetence or indecisiveness of international law to justify their own shortcomings.
The ICJ has done all that a legal body of its capacity can do. But the court can do nothing, nor should it be expected to carry out the provisions of the ruling. This is a job for UN member states and for those who claim to champion the rule of law.
Israel's response to the ruling held no surprises. Various Israeli government officials declared their country's intention to move forward in the construction of the 600km-long Separation Wall. When asked by a CNN anchorwoman: why not build the wall on Israeli land? (since the wall will eventually sprawl 900 km into the West Bank), current Israeli finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu replied: the West Bank is not Palestinian land, it's "disputed land".
While Israel insists on living in a world of its own, free from the constraints of international law, world courts and UN resolutions, shouldn't the champion of a new world order and democracy and the self-imposed executor of international law, the US government, adhere to the ICJ ruling? Not in a context in which Israel is the antagonist. This is the resounding reality that puts Israel above the law, thanks to US coercive politics and generous Security Council vetoes.
White House spokesperson and other US officials received the ruling with the same tired argument, that the ICJ has no place in a political dispute, that the ruling will complicate matters not solve them, and that such a decision will make difficult the implementation of the US-advocated Road Map peace initiative.
If a transgression as deep and ingrained as that of the Arab-Israeli conflict, with its tremendous human cost on both sides and extensive harm and constant threat to an entire region, topped with an illegal wall twice as that of Berlin's and one-fifth that of China's is not a matter for the ICJ to decide, then the court's are better off filing for an early retirement.
As for the Road Map; I wonder if it's the same Road Map 'envisioned' by US President George W. Bush, altered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, then completely shelved by the latter with the support of major US Zionist organizations and neoconservative ideologues, for it tantamount to US 'pressure' on Israel? Is it the same Road Map that was discarded in favor of Sharon's Disengagement Plan and hailed by President Bush, despite the fact that it gives Israel a mandate to configure the final solution to the Middle East conflict in any way it finds convenient, since Palestinians cannot be trusted as a 'peace partner'?
If it is, then why decrying a Road Map that was shot, bombed and bulldozed to death by Israel with the support of its own creator, President Bush himself?
On the other hand, Europe who has messed about long enough, to avoid harboring any foes, must take a stand and a decisive one. The urgency of the situation leaves no chance for Europe's balancing act it adopted supposedly because of its geopolitical uniqueness. While it has called on Israel to halt the construction of the wall in carefully worded statements, it continues to forge relations and alliance with the rouge state. Some European countries are major arms suppliers to Israel, so quick in condemning Palestinian militant groups, yet so slow in confronting Israel's flagrant violations of international law.
However disheartening, it must be said, that despite its political blurriness (with the exception of some European Union members), Europe still holds a great political weigh in favor of a just solution to the Middle East conflict, than most, if not all Arab and Muslim countries.
This unpleasant fact has been highlighted time and again as the Arab and Muslim world experiences one of its most disintegrative phases in modern history. While most Arabs and Muslims are still united around the idea that Palestine is their foremost cause, it seems that not one government within the Arab and Muslim political hemisphere is capable of asserting itself in any tangible form to counter the deep imbalance infused by the US government policies in the region.
Without the reinvention of a solid and perpetual political platform, Arab and Muslim governments shall derive its relevance to this conflict, merely on the grounds of its historic and cultural proximity, yet utterly marginalized otherwise.
As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the ICJ ruling has helped reinstate, in so decisive a fashion, the legitimacy and sanctity of their struggle. However, while it absolved and freed the Palestinian people from the irresponsible and incoherent political line adopted by their leadership, through the re-establishment of the role of international law, the ICJ ruling should not be used as substantiation of the PA's bankrupt and reckless political approach.
On the contrary, the PA, an immature body, born of an illegitimate peace process starting with the Oslo Accords in 1993, has ominously contributed to the localization of the Palestinian struggle, stripping it of its international context and reducing it into a platform of corruption and nepotism.
Among the many scandals that tainted the PA's dismal legacy was the legitimate charge that various Palestinian companies, tied to prominent individuals affiliated with the PA, have helped construct illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. But what is even more outraging and most relevant to the ICJ ruling is the recent report prepared by a Palestinian Legislative Council committee.
The report, which took months in the making and is now sitting in the office of the Palestinian attorney general, concludes that major Palestinian companies have been smuggling and selling cement at a cheaper rate to Israel to speed its construction of the Separation Wall.
These companies are said to be directly affiliated with some PA ministers, who have been accused repeatedly of helping construct illegal Jewish settlement for a quick buck. Not only are many top PA officials accused of playing a role in completing the transaction (involving 420,000 tons of Egyptian cement), but the PA's highest leadership seems inclined to sweep the accusations under the rug, like it did so profusely in past scandals.
Without serious reform (not self-serving Israeli and American reforms) that engenders accountability, the PA is on its way to become a liability to the Palestinian struggle. It becomes almost nonsensical demanding the international community to fulfill its obligations toward implementing international law including the latest ICJ ruling, while rich Palestinian fat cats are helping build the cage that shall imprison their own people for years to come.
Indeed, the International Court of Justice has done so honorable a job in granting this moral victory, not only to the Palestinian people, but to politically weak and unprotected nations worldwide. But the ruling shall remain in the realm of the intangible until those involved in the conflict are reminded of their legal and political duty toward international law.
Without such an awakening, the Sharon and Bush doctrines are those likely to prevail, above the law, above the ICJ and its 15 judges and above our world's moral decency, or whatever remains of it.
Ramzy Baroud is an Arab-American journalist and head of research at Aljazeera.net English.
He is the editor of the anthology: "Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion."
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