Israel not present, calls hearings prejudicial, tendentious

At World Court, South Africa says Israeli ‘apartheid’ surpasses its own sordid past

Pretoria’s envoy to Netherlands tells International Court of Justice hearing on Israeli rule in West Bank that his country has a ‘special obligation’ to oppose such a practice

Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela checks his phone during a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, January 12, 2024. (Patrick Post/AP)
Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela checks his phone during a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, January 12, 2024. (Patrick Post/AP)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Israel is applying an even more extreme version of apartheid against Palestinians in the West Bank than South Africa had against Blacks before 1994, Pretoria told the world’s top court on Tuesday.

“We as South Africans sense, see, hear, and feel to our core the inhumane discriminatory policies and practices of the Israeli regime as an even more extreme form of the apartheid that was institutionalized against black people in my country,” said Vusimuzi Madonsela, South Africa’s ambassador to the Netherlands, where the International Court of Justice is based.

An unprecedented 52 countries are taking the stand at the ICJ, which has been asked to provide a non-binding “advisory opinion” on the legal implications of Israel’s control of Palestinian territories.

“It is clear that Israel’s illegal occupation is also being administered in breach of the crime of apartheid… It is indistinguishable from settler colonialism. Israel’s apartheid must end,” said Madonsela.

He said South Africa had a “special obligation” to call out apartheid wherever it occurs and ensure it is “brought to an immediate end.”

Israel rejects any allegation of apartheid, saying its own Arab citizens enjoy equal rights. Israel also notes that it granted limited autonomy to the Palestinian Authority at the height of the peace process in the 1990s and withdrew all its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005.

Israel is not participating in the oral hearings but sent a written contribution in which it described the questions the court had been asked as “prejudicial” and “tendentious.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved through negotiations. It said the case that opened on Monday was “aimed at harming Israel’s rights to defend itself from existential threats.”

The case is separate from a high-profile case brought by Pretoria against Israel for alleged genocide during its current offensive in Gaza. In that case, the ICJ issued an initial ruling that ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza and allow in humanitarian aid, but did not order a ceasefire.

Palestinian Authority foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki (center) and PA ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, right, take their seats at the United Nations’ highest court which opened hearings in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

The hearings kicked off on Monday with three hours of testimony from Palestinian officials, who accused Israel of running a system of “colonialism and apartheid.”

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki urged the judges to call for an end to the occupation “immediately, totally and unconditionally.”

The oral arguments presented by the Palestinian representatives almost entirely ignored the political nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the territories, past efforts to resolve the dispute, and the ongoing applicability of the Oslo Accords to resolving it in a political, not legal, framework. The Oslo Accords created the Palestinian Authority.

The ICJ rules in disputes between states. However, it can also be asked to provide a legal opinion on a topic of international law, though its advisories are non-binding.

The United Nations asked it in December 2022 to provide guidance on the “legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

Illustrative: Israeli security forces operate in the West Bank city of Jenin, December 14, 2023. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The proceedings on Monday were the first of six days of hearings in The Hague over the UN request.

When the ICJ rules in contentious cases between states, its judgment is binding but it has little means of enforcement. It ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine, for example.

In contrast, an advisory opinion is completely non-binding but would likely add to the mounting international pressure on Israel over its Gaza offensive.

The court will rule “urgently” on the affair, probably by the end of the year.

A protester waving the Palestinian flag stands outside the Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, Netherlands, January 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)

In a brief statement to the ICJ issued last year in response to the proceedings, Israel emphasized that previous efforts to politically resolve the conflict had run aground, pointing to statements by former US president Bill Clinton, former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and former Saudi ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan, accusing the Palestinians of failing to come to an agreement with Israel and thereby end Israeli rule in the territories.

The Palestinian Authority had lobbied for the UN General Assembly to request the advisory opinion. It is seeking a ruling by the court that Israeli rule in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is illegal, and that Israel must end that rule, dismantle Israeli settlements, and provide restitution to Palestinians who have been harmed by it.

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