[News] Despite Ambiguity in International Law, Palestinians are Winning the ‘Legitimacy War’

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Wed Oct 14 14:40:19 EDT 2020


https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/10/14/despite-ambiguity-in-international-law-palestinians-are-winning-the-legitimacy-war/
Despite
Ambiguity in International Law, Palestinians are Winning the ‘Legitimacy
War’
by Ramzy Baroud - October 14, 2020
------------------------------

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

‘International law’ remains one of the most discussed terms in the context
of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is almost always present,
whether the discussion pertains to the Israeli wars and siege on Gaza, the
expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank or the encroaching
apartheid throughout Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Despite the importance and relevance of the term, however, it rarely
translates into anything tangible. The Israeli siege
<https://merip.org/2019/07/israels-permanent-siege-of-gaza/> on Gaza, for
example, has continued, unabated, for nearly 14 years, without
international law serving as a protector of Palestinian civilians against
Israeli violations of human rights. More recently, on September 13, the
Israeli government approved
<https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200914-israel-approves-1000-settlement-units-in-occupied-west-bank/>
1,000 illegal settlement units in the West Bank, in stark violation of
international law. It is likely that Israel will go ahead with it, anyway.

With regard to violating international law, Israel is in a unique category
of its own, for Israel’s behavior is always governed by its military
strength and the backing of its Western allies.

To gain more insight into the relationship between international law,
conflict resolution and accountability, I spoke
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMtVONP3_co> with Professor Richard Falk,
one of the world’s leading experts on international law and former UN
Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights.

Of particular relevance to our discussion are the current Palestinian
efforts at pursuing international action to hold alleged individual Israeli
war criminals accountable at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The
fact that the Court has agreed
<https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/dec/20/icc-to-investigate-alleged-israeli-and-palestinian-war-crimes>
to investigate alleged war crimes in occupied Palestine has generated an angry
response
<https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20191224-reports-israel-considers-denying-entry-of-icc-investigators-in-response-to-war-crimes-probe/>
from Israel and unprecedented sanctions
<https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/02/us-sanctions-international-criminal-court-prosecutor>
from Washington, targeting ICC judges and staff, including Prosecutor,
Fatou Bensouda.

I asked Professor Falk about the ‘limited scope’ of the ICC investigation,
as the Court will only be looking into Israeli war crimes, thus, for now,
excluding crimes against humanity, among other illegal practices that
should be applicable in the case of Israel.

“The scope of the investigation is something that is ill-defined, so it is
a matter of political discretion,” Professor. Falk said, adding that “the
Court takes a position that needs to be cautious about delimiting its
jurisdiction and, therefore, it tries to narrow the scope of what it is
prepared to investigate.”

“I don’t agree with this view …  but it does represent the fact that the
ICC, like the UN itself, is subject to immense geopolitical pressure,” Falk
told me. Still, the seasoned international law expert described the ICC
investigation as a “breakthrough”.

“It’s a breakthrough even to consider the investigation, let alone the
indictment and the prosecution of either Israelis or Americans that was put
on the agenda of the ICC, which led to a pushback by these governments …
Israel has denounced the Court as if it is improper to examine any State
that claims the matter of geopolitical impunity. So you have a core denial
of the rule of law.”

Undeniably, this breakthrough and the advanced position of international
institutions regarding the illegitimacy of the Israeli occupation are the
outcome of the insistent effort put in by Professor Falk and other
champions of international law throughout the years. In fact, the
relentless attempts aimed at silencing Falk – and others like him – were
carried out so that their criticism of Israel’s violations did not,
eventually, lead to such dreaded investigations, like that of the ICC.

“There are very militant Zionist-oriented NGOs, like UN Watch, that engage
in defamatory kinds of activities and use all their resources and energy to
persuade people, including the UN Secretary-General, to criticize me and
urge my dismissal or some type of sanctions,” Falk reflected on the
challenges he faced during his term at the UN between 2008-14.

Fortunately, but also tellingly, “in the end, the role of Special
Rapporteur was respected … and there was so much support for my activity,
including foreign ministries and also from outside the Islamic world. I
felt that it was an important kind of presence to maintain.”

“The Zionist groups were, of course, very frustrated and they didn’t try to
respond to my reports on the violations of human rights in the Occupied
Territory; instead, they concentrated on defaming and smearing the
messenger rather than addressing the message,” Falk said, identifying the
very essence of the strategy used by pro-Israel groups, whether at the UN
or elsewhere.

I also asked Professor Falk about the term ‘Israeli occupation’ as, in my
limited understanding, the term has been devised
<https://www.icrc.org/en/war-and-law/treaties-customary-law/geneva-conventions>
by the Geneva Conventions – and previous international definitions – to
regulate a transitional period during which an Occupying Power is in charge
of the welfare and well-being of the civilian population living in an
Occupied Territory.

“International law is quite ambiguous about the duration of a military
occupation and Israel has made a kind of specious argument that the Geneva
Conventions and the normal law governing belligerent occupation doesn’t
apply here, because this is disputed sovereignty rather than a case where
another country has been occupied,” Falk said.

Coupled with US-western support and vetoes
<https://uk.reuters.com/article/instant-article/idUSKCN1IX5UW> at the
Security Council, Israel has historically exploited this ambiguity to
entrench – instead of ending – its occupation of Palestine.

Since international law “doesn’t provide an endpoint to the Occupation, the
most effective way of challenging it from an international law perspective
is that Israel has committed so many fundamental breaches of the
obligations of an Occupying Power – the establishment of the settlements,
the incremental annexation, the integration of Jerusalem into the sovereign
State of Israel..”

“They are all fundamental violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and
they represent an effort to make the end of Occupation not possible in the
sense that it was meant: turning the society back to the civilian
population that is occupied,” Falk continued, describing this situation as
a “serious flaw, legally and politically.”

“But is there a reason for optimism?” I asked Professor Falk, whose energy
and tireless work continue to define this indefatigable warrior of human
rights.

“As colonialism and oppression lost their acceptance as forms of legitimate
political behavior, the political balance shifted and the perseverance of
national struggles turned out to be more formidable than the weaponry at
the disposal of the colonial powers,” Falk said.

According to Professor Falk, history is clearly on the side of
Palestinians, who are already “winning the legitimacy war”.

*Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He
is the author of five books. His latest is “**These Chains Will Be Broken*
<https://www.amazon.com/These-Chains-Will-Broken-Palestinian/dp/1949762092>*:
Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity
Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the
Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU).
His website is **www.ramzybaroud.net* <http://www.ramzybaroud.net/>
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