World court receives UN request for opinion on Israeli ‘occupation’ and ‘annexation’

UN secretary-general says office will gather ‘dossier’ on relevant materials for the court, following General Assembly vote asking for advisory opinion on the conflict

The United Nations General Assembly Fourth Committee votes on measures addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at the United Nations in New York, November 11, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
The United Nations General Assembly Fourth Committee votes on measures addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at the United Nations in New York, November 11, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced on Friday that it has officially received the request made three weeks ago by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) asking the court to weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli “annexation” and the “legal status of the occupation.”

The court said in a short statement Friday that the request was issued in a letter dated January 17, 2023 by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and was received on Thursday. The document, which cited sections of the resolution, offered no details on the court’s next steps.

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution late last month asking the court for an “advisory opinion,” on Israel’s “prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of Palestinian territory.” It also called for an investigation into Israeli measures “aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem” and charged that Israel has adopted “discriminatory legislation and measures.”

The resolution — promoted by the Palestinians and passed by a vote of 87 in favor, 26 against, with 53 abstentions — demanded the court weigh in on the conflict in accordance with international law and the UN charter. The vote came a month after the UN’s Fourth Committee passed a similar resolution, setting the stage for the General Assembly process.

In his letter this week, Guterres wrote that his office “will start to prepare a dossier containing a collection of all relevant documents” related to the questions posed in the resolution that “will be transmitted to the Court in due course.”

Israel denounced the UNGA resolution, with Israeli envoy to the UN Gilad Erdan calling the vote a “moral stain” on the world body. He argued at the time that the vote delegitimizes and demonizes Israel.

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the UNGA over the resolution, accusing the global body of “distorting historical facts” and declaring that the Jewish people cannot be “an occupier” in its own land.

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

The court last issued an advisory opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2004 when the General Assembly asked it to rule on the legality of the separation barrier. The court ruled that the separation barrier Israel built was “contrary to international law” and called on the country to immediately halt construction.

Israel has ignored the decision, arguing that the barrier was a security measure meant to prevent Palestinian attackers from reaching Israeli cities. The Palestinians have said the structure was an Israeli land grab because of its route through east Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.

The UN has a long history of passing resolutions against Israel, which has accused the world body of bias, together with the US. Israel has also accused the Palestinians, who have nonmember observer state status at the UN, of trying to use the world body to circumvent peace negotiations and impose a settlement.

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