US, Russia to speak on Israeli occupation at top UN court

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The United States and Russia will present arguments today in proceedings at the UN’s highest court examining the legality of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, was asked in 2022 by the UN General Assembly to issue a non-binding opinion on the legal consequences of the occupation.

Israel, which is not taking part, said in written comments that the court’s involvement could be harmful to achieving a negotiated settlement.

Washington in 2022 opposed the court issuing an opinion and is expected to argue today that it cannot rule on the occupation’s lawfulness.

More than 50 states will present arguments until February 26. Egypt and France were also scheduled to speak today.

On Monday, Palestinian representatives asked the judges to declare Israel’s occupation of their territory illegal and said its opinion could help reach a two-state solution.

Yesterday, 10 states including South Africa were overwhelmingly critical of Israel’s conduct in the occupied territories, with many urging the court to declare the occupation illegal.

The latest surge of violence in Gaza that followed Hamas’ October 7 attacks in Israel has complicated already deeply-rooted grievances in the Middle East and damaged efforts toward finding a path to peace.

The ICJ’s 15-judge panel has been asked to review Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation … including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures”.

The judges are expected to take roughly six months to issue their opinion on the request, which also asks them to consider the legal status of the occupation and its consequences for states.

Israel ignored a World Court opinion in 2004 when it found that Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank violated international law and should be dismantled. Instead, it has been extended.

The current hearings could increase political pressure over Israel’s war in Gaza, which has killed about 29 000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – areas of historic Palestine that the Palestinians wanted for a state – in the 1967 conflict. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but, along with neighbouring Egypt, still controls its borders.

Israeli leaders have long disputed that the territories are formally occupied on the basis that they were captured from Jordan and Egypt during the 1967 war rather than from a sovereign Palestine.

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