Those well-versed in the Palestine-Israel conflict know all too well that an enduring and just peace settlement, including the right of return for Palestinian refugees, is nothing more than political posturing, or wistful sentiment. Countries with a vested interest in the precarious status quo, including the United States – far from the honest broker of peace it claims to be – have done little to advance a sustainable and enduring agreement. Their continuous referral to a two-state solution belies their role in helping to systematically destroy the fabric of a Palestinian state on the ground.
Whilst abhorrent, the deadly response of the Israeli Defence Forces on Monday during the culmination of “The Great March of Return” protests in Gaza was painfully predictable. So, too, was the rhetoric that justified it. Hamas, so the argument goes, was using Palestinian demonstrators as a guise to attack Israel (although Hamas backed the demonstrations, some protestors were keen to disassociate themselves with the party). The same argument was employed in 2011, when Israeli forces shot dead scores of Palestinian protestors calling for their right of return. Yet this right is enshrined under international law – United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.
Israel has long flouted international law with impunity. The apparatus of illegal Israeli occupation, extrajudicial killing of unarmed Palestinians, routine implementation of “administrative detention”, and restrictions on freedom of movement, among other myriad breaches, has expanded unchecked.
Both the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the United Nations General Assembly have strongly condemned Israeli violations of international law, particularly over issues such as the construction of the Israeli Separation Barrier, (ICJ, 2004), the ongoing presence of Israeli settlements and the Israeli annexation and occupation of East Jerusalem. However strong the international condemnation though, it has failed to change Israeli policy on the ground.
The death toll following Monday’s protests is now sitting at 60 Palestinians, including an eight-month-old baby. The United Nations Security Council is set to convene at the behest of Kuwait to “debate” this latest demonstration of Israeli military prowess. However, as noted before in other recent high profile incidents concerning Israel, including the 2014 Israeli Assault on the Gaza Strip (an attack that left over 2,300 Gazans dead) and the Mavi Marmara flotilla attack in international waters (with the death of 10 Turkish civilians), the veto clause will yet again render such chamber debates pointless. International law, particularly when it comes to Israel, carries very little weight.
Officials within Israel, including Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador to Britain, referred to the actions of the IDF on Monday as “measured” and “surgical”. The response of the international community has varied in terms of critical tone. Senior EU diplomat Federica Mogherini called on all sides to act with “utmost restraint to avoid further loss of life”. It was the usual case of the EU attempting to strike what it considers to be a balance by seeking equivalency when none patently exists.
Continuing the mealy-mouthed rhetoric, the UK government referred to the need for “restraint”, while the French made similar requests. It seems that those living in what has been referred to as the world’s largest open air prison should follow international etiquette, and die quietly.
Others have been more critical. The Irish government summoned the Israeli ambassador to explain the actions of its government. Turkey recalled both its ambassadors to Israel and the United States, linking the two inextricably, with President Erdogan (no human rights pin up himself) referring to Israel as a “terrorist state”. Similarly, the South African government have recalled their ambassador, noting that the Israeli actions in Gaza on Monday were “grave” and “indiscriminate”.
Thus a never-ending charade continues. Yet if international law is to retain an ounce of credibility, international governments must seek to hold Israel to account rather than bow to the pressures of the US and its rogue side-kick. In the absence of any meaningful two-state solution, the prospects for Palestinians to live with full access to the freedoms that many of us reading this piece take for granted remains bleak.
In a recent article for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israeli activist Jeff Halper demanded: “What else has to happen before Israelis, left, right and centre, finally realize that their government has already deliberately, systematically and effectively eliminated the two-state solution?” Halper’s “facts on the ground” suggest that Israel is already well along the process of completing, in all but word, a full-scale annexation of the West Bank. Settlements, and the infrastructure around them, including roads reserved for their residents, are expanding deep inside land supposedly designated for a Palestinian state. Coupled with the Palestinian National Authority’s own failed state building project, and the reticence of the international community, it is hard to see the commitments that were made in more optimistic days ever coming true.
Brendan Ciarán Browne is Assistant Professor, Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation at Trinity College Dublin.