Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 July 2004
Issue No. 699
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Ibrahim Nafie

Pursuit of justice

Actions such as the Tel Aviv bus bomb hamper any drive to implement the ICJ's ruling, writes Ibrahim Nafie

On 9 July the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling on the "legal consequences of the construction of a wall in occupied Palestinian territory". According to the court the wall in the West Bank and in and around East Jerusalem is illegal and Israel should halt its construction, dismantle the portions already completed and pay compensation to its victims. In addition, the court stated, "all states are under an obligation not to recognise the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction." It further urged the General Assembly and the Security Council to "consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall".

The ICJ ruling is nothing less than historic. The court confirmed in unambiguous terms the legal status of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in June 1967 as territories under occupation. It thus constitutes a major building block in the edifice of international resolutions and principles affirming the legitimacy of Palestinian rights.

Naturally the PA, the Arab League and Arab capitals hailed the ruling as a testimony from the highest judicial authority in the world to the justice of the Palestinian cause. But however such jubilation may be in order, we cannot afford to sit back and relax. On the contrary, we must now turn our attention to the steps we need to take next, bearing in mind that the task of transforming the ICJ's recommendations into action will require considerable perseverance and the combined efforts of the Palestinians, the Arabs and the international community.

The Israeli government, long accustomed to acting above the law, will not give in easily to the demands of the ruling. To Israel, smug in its assurance of American backing, international resolutions are not worth the paper they're written on. We must also remember that Israel is forever on the alert for any incident it can exploit to turn the tables.

Thus, as we work towards the implementation of the ICJ recommendations, we will also have to keep a close eye on Tel Aviv, respond effectively to its actions and, above all, forestall its bids to capitalise on irresponsible behaviour on the part of Palestinian groups or factions. I believe we should also be wary of the ramifications of Washington's reaction to the ICJ ruling. In Washington's opinion the ICJ was not the appropriate place for solving a problem of a political nature. The question of the wall was such a problem and should thus be settled by means of the existing political process, which is the roadmap. In our response to such arguments, we must stress that the question of the wall is, in fact, a legal matter, as the ICJ ruling has made explicit.

As was expected Israel rejected the court's opinion. Nevertheless Tel Aviv was shaken enough to make some hasty communications with Washington in anticipation of the possibility that the issue of the wall be brought before the Security Council. It is also preparing for the likelihood that the Arabs will bring the matter before the General Assembly, in which there is no threat of obstruction by veto. However, if General Assembly resolutions carry political and moral weight, they lack binding force. For this reason the Arabs may contemplate resorting to the "uniting for peace" formula, which confers upon the General Assembly the same powers as the Security Council. As the adoption of this formula requires a two-thirds vote of all the members of General Assembly, to go this route would pose a great challenge to Arab diplomacy.

While Israel was scrambling to deal with the fallout from the ICJ ruling a bomb went off in a bus station in Tel Aviv killing a woman and wounding some 20 other civilians. The Palestinian Al-Aqsa Brigade claimed responsibility for the operation. The first such incident inside the Green Line in four months, the Israeli government seized upon it to lash out at the ICJ ruling. The explosion in Tel Aviv was "courtesy of the ICJ ruling", Sharon proclaimed, while his deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert declared that "the war against terrorism will continue, as will the construction of the wall."

Who was the bombing meant to serve? Why is it that whenever the Arabs are on the verge of a political breakthrough something like this drags us back? The perpetrators of the act have done nothing but tarnish the image of the Palestinian struggle and perform an outstanding service for Sharon. Nothing could better suit his campaign against those who stand up for Palestinian rights.

Although Arafat hastened to condemn the Tel Aviv attack the Palestinians clearly have a problem. This problem can only be solved when the Palestinians reach a national consensus over the aims and means of their struggle, one that will render any faction or organisation that departs from this consensus accountable to the Palestinian people. The urgency of this cannot be overstated.

Simultaneously, we must remember that, in spite of Israeli claims to the contrary, the recent bombing does not support any justification of the wall on security grounds. The ICJ has already given its answer on this score: "The wall, along the route chosen, and its associated regime gravely infringe a number of rights of Palestinians residing in the territory occupied by Israel, and the infringements resulting from that route cannot be justified by military exigencies or by the requirements of national security or public order."

Most importantly, it is time for Israelis to realise that it is not walls that bring security. Security is a state of mind, not barriers bristling with weapons. And this state of mind can only be realised through equitable political agreements that satisfy the fundamental rights of both sides and lay the foundations for lasting peace.

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