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US testifies at ICJ hearing on legality of Israeli occupation

US testifies at ICJ hearing on legality of Israeli occupation

 


BRUSSELS The United States again distanced itself from its allies on Wednesday to support Israel at the International Court of Justice, despite growing tensions between President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the war in Gaza.

During a presentation in The Hague, U.S. officials warned that an advisory opinion from the U.N.'s top court, if not properly drafted, could derail peace efforts. A move toward Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza requires consideration of Israel's very real security needs, State Department official Richard Visek told the court.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki spoke to reporters at the International Court of Justice after the United States defended Israel's security needs. (Video: Reuters)

Visek spoke on the third day of historic hearings on Israel's control over the West Bank, Gaza and annexed East Jerusalem. In previous presentations, representatives from South Africa and other countries have accused Israel of running an apartheid state and called for an end to its occupation of Palestinian territories.

US vetoes UN proposal for immediate ceasefire in Gaza, sparking anger

The UN General Assembly requested an advisory opinion from the ICJ in 2022, ahead of Hamas' attack on Israeli communities on October 7, when Israel said militants had killed around 1,200 people and taken 253 hostage and that Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza, where the Health Ministry says the Israel Defense Forces have killed more than 29,000 people. This differs from the genocide complaint filed against Israel in December by South Africa. But the devastation on the ground in Gaza and the world's inability so far to stop it make the situation even more urgent.

Israel is not participating in the hearings, which Netanyahu's office says are aimed at harming Israel's right to defend itself against existential threats.

Washington is increasingly isolated in its support for Israel, a development that has been evident in The Hague. A lawyer for the Palestinians said the United States was the only state besides Fiji to defend Israel during the proceedings.

That's not surprising, attorney Paul Reichler said. Whatever violations of international law Israel commits, the United States comes forward to shield it from any responsibility.

The United States is Israel's closest ally. The Biden administration faces growing pressure to get his government to change its conduct of the war in Gaza.

Biden this month called Israel's campaign overblown and said civilian suffering must end. He signed an executive order imposing sanctions on four West Bank settlers who the administration says have committed violence against Palestinians, the most significant action taken against Israelis since the conflict began.

Still, many have called on the administration to do more. The killing of two American teenagers in the West Bank has also sparked calls for a stronger American response.

But the Biden administration continues to support Israel on international stages. On Tuesday, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip for the third time since the conflict began.

The United States has argued that an immediate ceasefire could jeopardize negotiations during a six-week pause, during which Hamas would repatriate kidnapped Israelis, Israel would release imprisoned Palestinians and more humanitarian aid would be delivered to the besieged enclave. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called on members to support an alternative resolution.

The United States was the only member of the 15-member council to vote against an immediate ceasefire. Britain abstained; the others voted for.

In The Hague on Wednesday, Visek sought to recognize the role of courts while warning of the risks of bias. He added that the court should not conclude that Israel is legally obligated to withdraw immediately and unconditionally.

On October 7, we were all reminded of Israel's security needs, and they persist, he told the court. Unfortunately, these needs were ignored by many participants when asserting how the court should consider the issues before it.

France on Wednesday again condemned Israeli settlement policy in the occupied territories and called for restitution or compensation for Palestinians for practices that violate international law. But he urged the court not to go further than necessary in its decision.

The debates opened Monday with remarks from Palestinian officials. Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told the court that 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, half of them children, are besieged and bombed, killed and maimed, starved and displaced.

More than 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, are subject to the colonization of their territory and the racist violence that makes it possible, he added.

Remarks from 10 countries Tuesday, South Africa, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile touched on similar themes.

South Africa has accused Israel of perpetuating a more extreme form of apartheid that once existed in its country.

The South African ambassador to the Netherlands, Vusimuzi Madonsela, on February 20 urged the International Court of Justice to declare the Israeli occupation illegal. (Video: Reuters)

Vusi Madonsela, the South African ambassador to the Netherlands, said the Israeli occupation discriminates and fragments all Palestinian people in order to ensure the continuation of Israeli Jewish rule.

Canada was due to address the court on Tuesday, but dropped out, saying its written statement would be enough. Canada had asked the Court not to issue an advisory opinion for fear it would disrupt peace efforts.

South Africa files genocide case against Israel in international court

With more than two dozen countries yet to speak, the hearings are expected to continue until Monday. The court's advisory opinion is not expected for months and may have no impact.

The court ordered Israel to minimize harm to civilians in Gaza. However, few see evidence that these temporary measures changed the conduct of the war.

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