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ISS TODAY OP-ED

African countries join a united front against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories

African countries join a united front against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories
The Israel Defense Forces' Qalandia checkpoint, which is between the northern West Bank and Jerusalem. (Photo: © Wikimedia Commons)

The timing of last week’s International Court of Justice hearings could lead to greater compliance with the court’s ruling than in previous cases.

Between 19 and 26 February, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held a landmark sitting to hear oral arguments by 51 countries and three international organisations on the legal consequences of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories (see box). 

After the oral hearings, the judges must consider all the arguments (including 57 written submissions) and provide an advisory opinion. No other application before the ICJ has involved this many countries – although the 2003 West Bank wall case came close, with 45 states and four international organisations submitting written statements.

The large number of countries intervening is unsurprising, considering that the opinion was requested by a December 2022 United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution that passed with 87 votes in favour, 26 against and 53 abstentions. Of the 40 African countries present for the vote, 26 voted in favour, four against, and 10 abstained.

Israeli occupation

In its presentation on 19 February, Palestine’s legal team drew on its July 2023 written submissions and subsequent events in Gaza. The lawyers argued against the continued occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel, which they referred to as colonisation, racist violence and apartheid.

Meanwhile, while the ICJ hearings were under way, on 20 February the UN Security Council failed – again – to pass a resolution on a ceasefire in Gaza after the US vetoed it. Four resolutions have now been vetoed – three by the US. 

Could the US stance against a ceasefire in the Gaza war change with an ICJ advisory opinion in favour of Palestine? Unlikely.

A day after the failed Security Council resolution, the US presented its oral arguments at the ICJ, saying the court should not order Israel’s withdrawal from the Occupied Palestinian Territories without security guarantees. (The same argument was made 20 years ago when the ICJ ruled that the West Bank wall was illegal.) The US also argued that there shouldn’t be a time limit to Israel’s occupation, and that the Security Council remained the best forum for deciding security matters. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

Comments since then by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that new Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate international law suggest a slight shift away from unconditional support for Israel. 

Israel has rejected the ICJ process as illegitimate, unwarranted and harmful. On 19 February, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated this position, saying the ICJ proceedings were “an effort designed to infringe on Israel’s right to defend itself against existential threats” and that the government and Knesset (parliament) were united in rejecting it. 

Israel has rejected the ICJ proceedings as illegitimate, unwarranted and harmful.

Israel’s position on the ICJ is unsurprising. But with the vast majority of countries’ submissions aligning with Palestine’s views on the occupation, Israel may be concerned that its support base is shrinking.

On the eve of the ICJ hearings, world leaders at the Munich Security Conference displayed no appetite for a continued war in the Middle East. As multiple tracks of diplomacy were being pursued in closed discussions, on the main stage the refrain was clear: The war must end, hostages and prisoners of war should be released, and a two-state solution was the only viable way out.

But Israel’s President Isaac Herzog and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni argued at the conference that Israel’s military action in Gaza would continue and that a two-state solution could only be on the table once Hamas had been “eradicated from Gaza”. This stance, coupled with Netanyahu’s rejection of the ICJ process, raises concerns about what, if any, impact the advisory opinion will have. 

Of the 63 countries in the proceedings, only three have unequivocally defended the legality of the occupation.

Although these opinions are non-binding, they play a critical role in shaping international law, and are instructive. But there’s a poor track record on compliance. In the West Bank wall case, the court’s finding that the wall was illegal and must be dismantled was rejected by Israel – and with no enforcement by any UN member states, the wall stands to this day. Israel may similarly ignore the decision on occupation.

But it’s not only Israel’s stance under scrutiny this time. It is also the views of countries supporting Israel as the war on Gaza enters its fifth month. 

Of the 63 nations that are party to the proceedings, only three (Israel, the US and Hungary) have made statements unequivocally defending the legality of the occupation. While not rejecting the ICJ’s role, Canada, Togo and Zambia’s written submissions argued that the proceedings could undermine stability in Israel and Palestine and ongoing negotiations, and called on the court not to issue an opinion. 

Others, like Fiji, argued that the UN General Assembly’s request was biased, politicised and undermined the court’s integrity. France asserted Israel’s right to defend itself, but referred to the occupation as colonisation, rejecting further forceful acquisition of territories and calling on Israel to grant Palestinians protections and rights.

Most states (40), along with the League of Arab States, African Union (AU) and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation welcomed an ICJ advisory opinion to settle the issue. They argued that by transferring parts of its civilian population into the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel violated Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits occupying powers from deporting or transferring parts of their civilian population into the territory they occupy. 

It also prohibits the “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory”. This reaffirms the ICJ’s advisory opinion on the West Bank wall. 

With most countries aligning with Palestine’s views on the occupation, Israel’s support base is shrinking.

Fifteen African countries and the AU have contributed to the current ICJ case. They were united in their statements, which focused on international humanitarian law and argued that the occupation breached the Apartheid Convention. Only Togo and Zambia said they didn’t regard the ICJ as the right platform to deal with the issue, although they did condemn violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Israeli occupation

Countries intervening in the ICJ case on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. (Source: Author)

The advisory opinion is likely to come out long before South Africa’s ICJ case against Israel on genocide in Gaza is decided. Israel had until 26 February to report on its implementation of the court’s provisional measures to prevent genocide in Gaza. Israel’s media reported that the government did meet the deadline, but details were unavailable at the time of writing. 

Israel’s report back is likely to include humanitarian measures and efforts to deal with incitement. However, Israel has already been criticised for not providing essential services and impeding humanitarian aid. And its actions since the ICJ ruling on 26 January, including statements by Netanyahu, suggest the conflict is intensifying. Israel maintains that these actions do not amount to genocide. 

An ICJ advisory opinion on Israel’s occupation of Palestine is expected before July 2024. Even if it’s largely symbolic, the message from the many countries that argued against the occupation is clear: Previous bystanders are now actively making their views heard, suggesting widespread support for judicial processes as integral to the rule of law. DM

Ottilia Anna Maunganidze, Head of Special Projects, Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

First published by ISS Today.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Complete joke, most of those countries in Africa and the Middle East have or are currently going through Coups de Tat or are themselves perpetrators of actual genocide

    • Samuel Ginsberg says:

      Not only the ones in Africa. Just check out some of the fine upstanding players in other parts of the world.

    • John P says:

      Correction, Some of those countries, not most. The same can be said about the Americas. None of this changes the fact that out of 63 nations only 3 are defending the occupation and a further 3 are concerned that an opinion could undermine negotiations and stability.

  • Bob Kuhn says:

    Everyone conveniently forgets the historic rights the Jews have to this territory and moreover the many broken treaties signed by hamas and the plo only to be be broken over and over again by these arab terrorists.

    Might take this assembly of do-gooders seriously if they adopted the sam attitude to putin’s murderous assault of sovereign Ukraine and the many african despots who continue to oppress and brutalise their citizens and fund low level warfare across this continent!

    • Louise Wilkins says:

      “historic rights the Jews have to this territory”
      What century are you living in??

    • John P says:

      Please, don’t start with the historic rights nonsense. Based on your logic Italy has historic rights to huge parts of Africa and Europe, So does Iran (Persia), Turkey (Ottomans), Palestinians and so and so on.
      With the same logic Putin has legitimate rights to Ukraine as does Poland, Lithuania. Greece and Turkey.

      • EK SÊ says:

        Italy is a 19th century creation. Like Germany. You mean Rome?
        Your logic is ignorant in that Jews have been in Israel for thousands of years. The Roman Empire died in Constantinople. It’s still dead.

        • John P says:

          Palestinians have also been in Palestine for thousands of years, much of Palestine and Israel has been common territory since the Bronze age. The whole area has been conquered and re-conquered many times and occupied by many different peoples over the years. No single people or religion has the sole right to the region.

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      Whatever rights the Jews have can be a license to tramp on Palestinians rights, allow occupation and illegal settlements, otherwise I may wish for the same unique rights afforded only to Jews.
      The Jews that I have met are very nice people who will never injure people and block medicine to treat the wounds they inflicted.
      The Jews I know will not destroy food and then block any form of food to starve a nation.
      And this cannot be confused with what Putin is doing in Ukraine he is not a Jew or a Palestinian, the only reason why he is brought up by pro Israel supporters is the lack of facts to support the actions of apartheid Israel.

    • Steve Du Plessis says:

      Clown

    • Ben Harper says:

      Aw, come up with that one all by yourself?

  • Vusi Dladla says:

    To show the middle finger to the International Court of Justice and the rule of law, Israel has announced new settlements in the occupied territories.

  • Gordon Cyril says:

    To add context, it is worth noting that Israel is not even bothering to participate in this “advisory” (sic) stunt. There are around 11 countries who are in support of Israel, not 3 per the article, but as with everything sponsored by the UN, this is little more than an Israel “pile-on” and one in which any outcome will be superfluous to the reality.

  • John P says:

    The ICJ and the United Nations are completely toothless. Israel has ignored every ruling calling for the removal of the Gaza wall, a stop to illegal settlement in Palestinian and the release of detainees. Russia has ignored the order to withdraw from Ukraine and stop the war. North Korea ignores everything and so on and so on.

    • Ben Harper says:

      Since when does the ICJ have ANY say in what a sovereign country does to secure its borders? They have NO RIGHT to tell Israel or anyone what form or substance a border boundary must take

      • JP K says:

        There limitations to a country’s right to defend itself. For example, there are the Geneva conventions… In the case of the wall, the problem is the Israel is effectively annexed more land… Had the wall been along Israel’s recognised borders there wouldn’t have been a problem.

        • Ben Harper says:

          Really? I suggest you actually read the Geneva Convention and the International Human Rights conventions

          • JP K says:

            Yes really. It’s not complicated. The fact that these laws exist by definition mean there are limitations. And clearly the signatories to these conventions mean they should be bound by them.

        • Samuel Ginsberg says:

          Recognized borders? If you consider Gaza to be non-israeli territory then it’s perfectly reasonable to build a wall along that border. If you do consider it to be Israeli territory then why shouldn’t Israel simply take it over? You’re trying to have it both ways.

    • JP K says:

      Agreed. These instances (and of course there are others such as the US ignoring the ICJ ruling on Nicaragua) show that the rules based international order is problematic. First, these laws already favour western countries (notice, e.g., that past crimes relating to colonialism aren’t dealt with) and nor are the laws applied evenly (E.g., Tony Blair happily gives speaking engagements).

      For me, the setup of the rules based order needs to change. While many on the DM are particularly concerned about Sudan and Ukraine – of course only to the extent that these distract from the issue of Irael’s latest assault on Gaza – there is a problem. But there is no incentive to address this since so many past and sitting presidents would then open themselves to war crime prosecution.

      It’s not complicated. As Martin Luther King said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

      We should heed these words. If not because of a sense of morality, then because who knows what the future holds for South Africa and when we may need support.

  • Jim F. says:

    Well if Trump gets in there will be a swift reversal in US attitude. More pain for the countries of Africa.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Opinions are just that, not instructive. The Security Wall in Jerusalem was built to protect Israel from terrorists…..looks horrible admittedly.

    • Samuel Ginsberg says:

      Looks horrible. But then Israelis got tired of being murdered with suicide bombs so they found and implemented a solution that was effective for many years.

      • JP K says:

        Fredrick Douglas (former slave): “where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe”

        This story isn’t new. Just like it’s not new that people defend injustice.

  • Agf Agf says:

    Absolute drivel. Usual pro Hamas anti Israeli slant. Just who exactly is the author and what precisely is the purpose of the ISS? Why are they anti Israeli? South Africa really is now firmly in the camp of the Axis of Evil. Our friends are Russia, Iran, China and North Korea. With friends like that who needs enemies?

    • MN says:

      This is unacceptable, so I live in a evil country that is trying to do the right thing by helping the Palestinians.

      • Steve Du Plessis says:

        They should do the really right thing and support the only democracy in the Middle East in a war against genocidal terrorism

        • Rodney Weidemann says:

          I’d rather not support the murder of 20 000+ women and children, but you do you…

          • Samuel Ginsberg says:

            Funny that in a population that is 50% male only 33% of the fatalities are men. Funny that not a single armed Hamas figher has been reported dead. Funny that they can tell you that 500 Gazans died when Israel bombed Al Ahli but that miraculously that number dropped to tens when it was found that it was an Islamic Jihad rocket misfire.
            Funny that you believe Hamas without questioning any of these inconvenient facts.

          • Ben Harper says:

            What’s the source of your numbers? More fake news

      • Samuel Ginsberg says:

        You live in a good country with an evil goverment who visited Iran and suddenly came back flush with election funding.

    • JP K says:

      Unfortunately you’re going to have a hard time. Many credible organisations point out the problems with Israel – UN Agencies, human rights organisations, research institutions – and so they have to be discredited. Many Jews criticise Israel – and so they have to be discredited.

      Why attack an organisation you know nothing about? Why don’t you have a look at their work? Why not just google the author? No, it’s much easier to just pigheadedly stick to your beliefs in the face of evidence that Israel is a pariah state.

  • Charl Van Til says:

    Yet they are silent about atrocities on the African continent itself, including what is happening in Sudan, with Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabab all the way from Somalia to Mozambique.
    By the way, the picture of the border wall that Egypt put up to keep Gazans out is just as impressive, if not more so.

  • andrew farrer says:

    OK, so the title of the article should read: Less than half of Africa’s states join . . .

  • Wayne Ashbury Ashbury says:

    75% + on the list are Muslim majority countries. I don’t think a different result is possible.

  • Steve Du Plessis says:

    Israel is fighting a genocidal terrorist group in behalf of all humanity. The better process would be to support the only democracy in the Middle East and put pressure on the Palestinians to accept a fair deal with israel – which they have been offered and refused more than once. As someone famous said, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity

    • Ben Harper says:

      Exactly

    • JP K says:

      Most of what you say is back to front. But, let’s ignore that – if you wanted to check the quality of Israel’s democracy, what the deals that the Palestinians have rejected have entailed and why they might have rejected it (or what deals Israel has rejected), Israel’s compliance with international law you could easily do that but clearly have no desire to.

      Instead, I’m curious – what is the fair deal that Palestinians should be pressurised to accept?

      • Ben Harper says:

        A teeny tiny bit of research would show you that Hamas and it’s predecessors have rejected EVERY solution put in front of them since (and including) the 1947 partition and responded with violent actions towards Israel

        • John P says:

          You are surprised they rejected the 1947 partition, a UN plan driven by the USA to separate THEIR land up into pieces? This is where the problem begins, Palestinians think it all belongs to Palestinians and Zionists think it all belongs to Israel.
          Every “solution” put in front of the Palestinians is biased towards Israel so yes, they reject it.

        • JP K says:

          The tropes you are repeating are easily shown to be wrong, which you could figure out for yourself if you were ever inclined to actually engage with the topic.

          First, why should the Palestinians automatically have accepted the partition plan? I guess it’s that old colonial thinking that says Europe can come along and divide up a land as they see fit.

          Second, the offers to which you refer were not viable, were untenable and included provisions which ran counter to international law – would you have accepted them? The fact that an offer was made doesn’t really say much though apologists repeat it unquestioningly.

          Third, even supposing that it’s true that Palestine rejected good faith offers, it is on record that Israel has repeatedly rejected UN resolutions related to the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine which represents the international consensus.

          • Ben Harper says:

            There was no Palestinian state, never has been and probably never will be

          • Ben Harper says:

            Your knowledge and understanding of that region is also seriously lacking, the history goes far before 1947, a fact that people love to forget.

            The other inconvenient factss:
            Which nation occupied and ruled the area known as Gaza from 1949 to 1967? Clue – it wasn’t Israel
            Which nation occupied and ruled the West Bank from 1948 to 1967? Clue – that also wasn’t Israel

            See when you actually look at facts all of your fabrications fall apart

  • Malcolm Dunkeld says:

    A highly misleading headline which implies the whole of Africa has joined the case against Israel. In fact only 15 countries have. Hopefully the Daily Maverick news coverage will stay neutral in this matter – there is a shortage of trustworthy reporting on Gaza in this country.

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