Israel continues to implement a range of practices, laws and policies seeking to displace and dispossess the indigenous Palestinian population. This is achieved through exerting complete control, apartheid and occupation. Zionism continues to aim to colonize Palestine (also known as ‘historic’ or ‘Mandate Palestine’).
This Israeli colonial regime is not limited to the Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), that is the West Bank (including Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, but also targets Palestinians residing on the Israeli side of the “1949 Armistice Line”. This has been a long established understanding among all who are familiar with the history of Palestine: Israel’s treatment of non-Jewish Palestinians throughout Israel and the oPt constitutes an overall discriminatory regime with the primary purpose (PDF) of controlling the maximum amount of land with the minimum amount of indigenous Palestinians residing upon it. The main components of this structure violate Palestinian rights in areas such as nationality, citizenship, residency, and land ownership. This system was originally applied during the Palestinian Nakba in 1948 with a view to dominate and dispossess (PDF) all forcibly displaced Palestinians, including the 150,000 who were able to remain within the “1949 Armistice Line”, later becoming Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The UN resolution from 1947 to partition Palestine triggered armed conflict between local Palestinians and Jewish colonists. This fostered an environment in which the Zionist movement could induce massive Palestinian displacement so as to create the Jewish state. The task of establishing and maintaining a Jewish state on a predominantly non-Jewish territory has been carried out by forcibly displacing the Arab-Palestinian majority population. Today, 66 percent of the Palestinian people worldwide (seven out of eleven million) are themselves, or the descendants of, Palestinians who have been forcibly displaced by the Israeli regime. Israeli laws, such as the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law and Military Orders 1649 and 1650, prohibit Palestinians from legally returning to Israel or the oPt.
This endeavor has been challenged in different ways, unsuccessfully. The military options of the ‘revolutionary’ Arab regimes of yesteryear proved to dictate politics to their own populations, rather to the new colonizing power in the region. Later political efforts, both Palestinian and Arab testify daily to their futility. In order to fight Zionist-Israeli colonial apartheid, we need to use different tools. Signs of this realization are emerging here and there occasionally across the Middle East.
A solution to the ongoing colonization and oppression of the Palestinian people should be found through a strict rights-based approach. These rights cannot be guaranteed through political negotiations, but through full adherence to, and implementation of, international law and rights. Thus, the conflict must be judged according to the values and standards of international law.
It is time to ensure that international law is not merely a paper tiger, but a legal system that protects rights, establishes obligations and, most importantly, creates realities in accordance with its values and principles. If this is not achieved, the ongoing Israeli disregard to international law in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict threats to undermine the very legitimacy of this crucial body of legal instruments, human rights, humanitarian law and international criminal law.
Peace cannot be recognized when fundamental human rights and freedoms are violated. A rights-based approach (PDF) is characterized by mechanisms, methods, tools and activities that are designed to complement the notion of humanity’s struggle for freedom, equality, justice and development for all. In other words, a rights-based approach should integrate norms, standards and principles of the international rights system into the plans, policies and processes that seek solutions to the conflict. In the case of Palestine, this approach would entail solutions based on international law rather than a reliance on political negotiations to bring about a long lasting and just solution.
Seen from this prism, it is morally and legally wrong to refer to illegal Israeli settlements in the oPt as “undermining efforts towards peace”, as it is regularly the case in political circles, whilst in reality these settlements constitute a violation of numerous international standards and principles. As such, they are but one of a growing number of physical manifestations of Israel’s ongoing impunity. This represents an ugly and dangerous precedent, and if the future sanctity of international law and standard is to be protected, its implementation should not be subject to negotiations, but demanded from the outset.
Fundamental to Palestinian rights is the right to self-determination. It is the basis for the implementation of the most important fundamental rights and freedoms such as the right to be free from all forms of racial discrimination or simply to live a life in dignity and free from oppression, occupation and colonization. The International Court of Justice refers to the right to self-determination as a right held by the people rather than a right held by governments alone. The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination is deep-seated in international law, most importantly within the International Covenants on Human Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and the Vienna Declaration.
In addition to that, and equally important, all Palestinian refugees have the right to return. International best practice stresses that refugees be offered their choice of solution in a voluntary and informed manner. A rights-based approach to assistance and protection, moreover, requires that refugees are consulted and given a right to participate in the design and implementation of national and international interventions. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) adopted both the principle of voluntariness (refugee choice) in the search for durable solutions (PDF), and a participatory approach in its operations. The framework for durable solutions for the Palestinians forcibly displaced during the Nakba is set out in Article 11 of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 which resolves that the refugees be allowed to return to their homes at the earliest practical date and that compensation be paid to those choosing not to return, and for loss or damage to property.
Internationally recognized rights and principles trigger specific state responsibilities at the international level. Third party states have a legal duty to cooperate in the process of bringing to an end Israel’s violations and breaches of international law, including the refusal of such states to provide aid or assistance to Israel, or to recognize the illegal situation that has arisen from Israeli acts.
Israel’s continuous and calculated strangulation of the Palestinian people must be properly challenged by the international community, and this challenge must come from an assessment of Israeli actions and policy through the lens of international law. The facts that Israel is leaving all across Palestine demonstrate that such an assessment will reveal elements of an international crime against humanity, and Israel’s regime must be judged accordingly, with the state’s impunity for these crimes brought to an end. The silence of powerful members of the international community in relation to these crimes continues. The resulting reality represents a worst case scenario: the intense and prolonged suffering of a colonized and occupied population, witnessed in conjunction with an emphatic politicisation and devaluing of international law.