UN asks world court to weigh in on Israeli ‘occupation’ and ‘annexation’

NEW YORK — The United Nations General Assembly on Friday approved a resolution calling on the International Court of Justice to consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Israeli “annexation” and the “legal status of the occupation.”

The resolution promoted by the Palestinians was passed by 87 votes to 26, with 53 abstentions.

The resolution is titled “Israeli Practices and Settlements Affecting the Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories” and calls on the Hague-based ICJ to “issue an advisory opinion urgently” on Israel’s “prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of Palestinian territory.”

It also calls for an investigation into Israeli measures “aimed at changing the demographic composition, character and status of the holy city of Jerusalem” and says Israel has adopted “discriminatory legislation and measures”.

The resolution demands that the court judge the conflict in accordance with international law and the UN charter.

The ICJ, also known as the World Court, is the highest UN court for mediating disputes between countries. Its rulings are binding and influence public opinion, but it has no enforcement mechanism. The court is separate from the International Criminal Court, which is also located in The Hague.

The court last issued an opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2004, when the General Assembly asked it to rule on the legality of the separation wall.

Israel, the US, the UK, Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany and Italy voted against Friday’s resolution.

China, Iran, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Russia and Saudi Arabia were among those who voted in favour, along with Muslim or Arab states with which Israel has relations, including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Azerbaijan .

France, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland abstained.

Votes against the resolution and abstentions totaled 79 countries, representing a smaller margin of support than usual for an anti-Israel move in the General Assembly.

A UN General Assembly vote on December 30, 2022 on a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Screenshot/UN)

Some members of the assembly of 193 countries, including Ukraine, did not vote. Kiev’s support for the resolution in a committee earlier this year sparked a diplomatic spat between Ukraine and Israel.

The UN has a long history of passing resolutions against Israel, and Israel and the US accuse it of bias. Israel has accused the Palestinians, who have non-member observer status at the UN, of trying to use the world body to evade peace negotiations and impose a settlement.

Earlier on Friday, Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan slammed the UN for the resolution, calling it a “moral blot” on the world body. He has argued that the vote delegitimizes and demonizes Israel, including by referring only to the Temple Mount by its Arabic name, Haram al-Sharif.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site for Jews as the site of the ancient temples, and the third holiest site in Islam as the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Erdan did not appear at the vote because it took place after the start of Shabbat. A U.S. representative voted against the resolution on behalf of Israel.

“No international body can decide that the Jewish people are ‘occupiers’ in their own homeland. Any decision by a judicial body mandated by the morally bankrupt and politicized UN is completely illegal,” Erdan said in a statement Friday. “The Palestinians have rejected any peace initiative while supporting and inciting terror. Instead of pushing the Palestinians to change, the UN is doing the opposite: helping to damage the only living democracy in the Middle East.”

“The decision to hold a vote on Israel on Shabbat is another example of the UN’s moral decay that prevents Israel’s position from being heard in a predetermined vote,” he said.

Erdan had his term as UN envoy extended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday in one of his first steps after returning to the prime minister’s office.

The Palestinian representative to the UN, Riyad Mansour, welcomed the resolution after it was passed.

“This vote comes one day after the formation of the new Israeli government that pledged to accelerate colonial and racist policies against the Palestinian people,” Mansour told the General Assembly.

“We trust that regardless of your vote today, if you believe in international law and peace, you will defend the opinion of the International Court of Justice when it is spoken and that you will now stand against this Israeli government, for freedom, justice and peace will triumph,” he said.

Anne Bayefsky, a pro-Israel human rights lawyer and professor who oversees the UN, said Mansour’s comments immediately after the vote, before considering the facts or the law, indicated that the outcome of the investigation was likely predetermined.

“It’s not a law at all. It’s a political stunt,” she said. “He is 100% sure that the result will go his way. The General Assembly has ridiculed the court.”

Ahead of the General Assembly vote last month, the UN Fourth Committee passed a resolution calling for guidance from the ICJ by 98 votes to 17, with 52 abstentions.

Israel has dismissed the resolution as biased and dismissive of Israeli security concerns. Former Prime Minister Yair Lapid conducted a diplomatic campaign and contacted more than 50 world leaders to rally opposition to the move.

Israel’s new hardline government, sworn in on Thursday, is likely to exacerbate tensions with the UN and the international community. The Office of the UN Secretary-General and the UN Human Rights Council did not respond to a request for comment on the new government and its policy towards the Palestinians.

UN envoy to the Middle East peace process Tor Wennesland congratulated Netanyahu Thursday, said he will continue to work with the Israeli government and stressed the UN’s commitment to a two-state solution.

Of Netanyahu’s coalition partners, none are on record supporting a two-state solution with the Palestinians, some support annexing the West Bank without granting equal rights to Palestinians in those areas, and many also vehemently oppose coordination or strengthening of the PA.

Netanyahu’s government is expected to entrench Israel’s control over the West Bank. His coalition deals include a vague commitment to annex the territory to Israel, a pledge to legalize dozens of unauthorized settlements, and providing major funds for road construction and public transportation in the West Bank.

“The Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel. The government will promote and develop the settlement of all parts of the land of Israel – in Galilee, the Negev, the Golan and Judea and Samaria,” the government’s general published agenda read. Judea and Samaria are the Biblical names for the West Bank.

There is no specific mention of the Palestinians or the peace process in the guidelines, which say only that “the government will work to promote peace with all our neighbors while protecting Israel’s security, historical and national interests.”

The Palestinian Authority on Thursday called for an international boycott of Israel’s new government over its hardline, right-wing agenda, saying it poses “an existential threat to the Palestinian people.”

In 2004, the court said the separation wall built by Israel was “in violation of international law” and called on Israel to halt construction immediately.

Israel has said the barrier is a security measure designed to prevent Palestinian attackers from reaching Israeli cities. The Palestinians say the structure is Israeli land grabbing because of its route through East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.

Israel has ignored the 2004 ruling and Friday’s resolution demands that Israel abide by it, stop building the wall and dismantle it.

AP contributed to this report.

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