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On Friday at 1 p.m. local time (1200GMT), Court President Joan Donahue, of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague Netherlands (consisting of 17 members) calmly listed out the findings of the learned panel.  The court highlighted South Africa’s procedural right to bring the case and underscored the court’s jurisdiction to rule on emergency measures concerning the genocide claims made against Israel. The key ruling  of the panel was that  the ICJ has  found that there is a plausible case of genocide.

6 Provisional Orders

Six emergency orders were given to Israel to be implemented namely;

  1. Israel must take all possible measures to prevent acts as outlined in Article 2 of the 1948 Genocide Convention
  2. Israel must ensure its military does not carry out any of the above actions.
  3. Israel must prevent and punish the “direct and public incitement to commit genocide in relation to members of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip
  4. Israel must ensure the delivery of basic services and essential humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.
  5. Israel must prevent the destruction of evidence of war crimes in Gaza and allow fact-finding missions access
  6. Israel must submit a report on all steps it has taken to abide by the measures imposed by the court within one month of the judgement. South Africa will have the chance to respond to this report

The court said it was gravely concerned about the fate of the hostages and called for their immediate and unconditional release. The main focus was on the plight of Gaza’s Palestinian civilians and the judges urged Israel to do more to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid to them.

In so doing the court found that South Africa had a case against Israel and rejected Israel’s appeal for the Court to disallow  South Africa’s application. All the rulings had a big majority of support with only the judges from Uganda and Israel casting dissenting rulings. This rulings were a big slap to  the face of Israel’s Prime minister Netanyahu, US President Biden, UK Rishi’s Sunak, Germany’s Olaf  Schloz, Canada’s Trudeau and the rest of Israel’s ardent supporters.  The ICJ rulings have far reaching implications as we shall discuss later in this article.

The court stopped short of ordering a ceasefire in Gaza as requested by South Africa in its application  but demanded that Israel try to contain death and damage in its military offensive. This was what many observers noted as a blot in the ICJ rulings. Israel can keep on killing   so long as it did not involve more civilians. No doubt, intense diplomatic pressure must have been made in the background to prevent such a ruling because of the enormous ramifications had such an order for a ceasefire been made, getting Israel to comply would have been impossible. Other analysts  suggest that taken in total, these rulings indirectly amount to a ceasefire to allow their full and proper implementation.

International Reactions

Many countries were quick to praise the decision of the ICJ. In a national TV broadcast on Friday evening, Cyril Ramaphosa, the president of South Africa said the ruling of the International Court of Justice is “a victory for international law, for human rights, and above all, for justice“ “A triumph for humanity” declared Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro. Brazil called for “Full and immediate compliance  of the rulings”, Mexico, Chile and Bolivia also welcomed the rulings. The OIC, Malaysia, Qatar, Turkiye, and Spain added to the chorus of approvals at the rulings.

Netanyahu however called the ICJ genocide ruling “Outrageous” and stressed “the commitment of Israel to follow international law (sic)” Israeli National Security Ben Gvir  labelled the ICJ as antisemitic and said that Israel should ignore its rulings. The White House declared that “its position that  charges of genocide on Israel are unfounded and that the ruling had no influence on America’s current policy on Gaza” i.e business as usual. Other Israel supporting countries were noticeable by their silence.

As if thumbing its nose at  the ICJ ruling on Friday to prevent genocidal acts, today Israel continued its assault on thousands of civilians trapped in southern Gaza. The assault  has focused on Khan Younis, the biggest city in Gaza’s south, where the two main hospitals were barely functioning under the relentless bombardment and the weight of numbers of civilians in need. Genocide continuing as normal you might say.

Moving Forwards

The ICJ judgment is final, binding on the parties to a case and without appeal. However the ICJ lacks the means to enforce its rulings. However   countries seeking enforcement, can refer the matter for a vote at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).  In this instance, Algeria has reportedly started the ball rolling by instructing its UN representative to bring the matter  to the UNSC. Here matters become very critical.The US, as a permanent member of the UNSC, holds a veto power over any resolution and has repeatedly wielded it  in the past in defence of Israel. Netanyahu is, of course, banking on the US to save his skin in the event of a vote.

Implications of a possible US veto

Many experts are of the opinion that should the US  veto  an ICJ-approved decision (which seems more than likely) this  could seriously damage and undermine US President Biden’s calls for others – including rivals like China and Russia – to uphold the international rules-based order.  How can America expect other countries to obey ICJ rulings when it itself can choose to obey it or veto at its own  discretion? Its credibility at the international arena will be compromised irreparably.

“This could make a real difference for the US administration and certainly a pose real dilemma for it,” James Bays, Al Jazeera English’s diplomatic editor was quoted to have said.

Furthermore Aljazeera also reported that if the UNSC passes a resolution requiring Israel to abide by the orders of the ICJ, it would have the power to take punitive action against Israel. Past examples of this have included economic or trade sanctions, arms embargoes and travel bans. Neve Gordon, Professor of International Law at Queen Mary University of London, added that countries, such as the US, would now have to seriously rethink using a veto or even normalisation of diplomatic ties with Israel. “It’s a new ballgame now, where the highest court in the world is saying, prima facie [on first impression], Israel is committing genocide, he said.  It is reported that South Africa is preparing to file a complaint against the United States for complicity in the commission of genocide. Other countries are reportedly thinking of doing the same. Should the ICJ issue a ruling establishing a prima facie case against the US as an accomplice to genocide, this will cause a pandora’s box to open.

Unless the US does something concrete to halt the fighting, Israel will drag it into the abyss of infamy and together they will become the new Pariah nations of the 21st century. Scorned and shunned by the rest of the world.

Another likely scenario is the warning by lawyers at the US Centre for Constitutional Rights that  the US government  may be complicit under international law in Israel’s  genocide of the Palestinian people. U.S. officials can be held responsible for their failure to prevent Israel’s unfolding genocide, as well as for their complicity, by aiding it and materially supporting it. Papers are being prepared to take them to the International Criminal Court. The ICC can try individuals charged with such crimes. A recent case involves the ICC issuing an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes  in the war with Ukraine. The Hague-based court said the warrant was issued over “Putin’s suspected involvement in the unlawful deportation and transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.”.  This “crime” pales into insignificance when compared to the crimes Israel is committing in Gaza.  President Biden once said , “preventing genocide is both a “moral duty and a matter of national and global importance.” His words are coming back to haunt him now.  Is it possible that the ICC will issue an arrest warrant for a sitting US president for alleged complicity in genocide? The implications are too terrible to contemplate.

ICJ Ruling and implications on Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

France, Germany,  the United Kingdom and Italy, Canada,  China, Spain are signatories to this international treaty.  The first five countries are strong Israeli supporters. The UN Arms Trade Treaty obligates member states to monitor arms exports and ensure that weapons don’t cross existing arms embargoes or end up being used for human-rights abuses, including terrorism. One of its objectives, among others state that the objective is to ensure that no transfer is permitted if there is substantial risk that it is likely to:be used in serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law, or acts of genocide or crimes against humanity. It prohibits parties from greenlighting arms transfers “if [they have] knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes”

The ICJ ruling last Friday fall smack right into the scope of this ATT. The EU gave strong support to this treaty. Also previously, Canada prohibited the selling of targeting systems for UAV drones to Turkey after accusing Turkey of using this technology in its campaign during the Syrian civil war.

Now with the ICJ ruling, countries which supply arms or weapon system parts to Israel are obligated under this treaty to stop the sale of lethal equipment to Israel. The US, UK, Canada, Italy and Germany all export lethal weapons to Israel in varying degrees. More than 70 percent of the arms Israel bought came from the US, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) Arms Transfers database. Thus the 64 million dollar question is will these countries who are very shrill and vocal about stopping arms transfers to countries in conflict and in danger of facing genocide also do the same to Israel now that Israel has been ruled by the ICJ to have plausible cause to have committed genocide? The answer to this question will be made clear as soon as NGOs or countries challenge these countries to commit to abide by an already agreed terms of arms trade treaty or find ingenious way of circumventing them at the risk of being labeled hypocrites practicing double standards.

Biden’s Domestic Woes

Domestically, Biden’s unqualified support for Israel threatens to derail his 2024 re election prospects. A recent Gallup poll found that two-thirds of those aged 18-34 years old and around two-thirds of non-white Americans disapprove of Israel’s military action in Gaza.. The US has also seen unprecedented demonstrations in support for Palestinians all over the country. A recent National march for Palestine held in November in Washington DC drew a crowd estimated at 300 000.  His support amongst the Arab and Muslim  population has likewise plummeted. Although both of these communities combined only make up about 2 to 3 percent of the American electorate, their concentration in key swing states gives them an  significant influence on the results of the presidential elections scheduled for this coming November. In the last election, Biden owed his victory to these marginal voters in defeating Trump in 2020.

The #Abandon Biden campaign among these communities are in full swing. President Joe Biden‘s campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodrigue flew to Dearbon  in Michigan to meet Arab community leaders  for a scheduled meeting with this Friday.   Prominent Arab leaders canceled the meeting, citing dissatisfaction with President Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war. Without the support of Arab Americans, Biden’s  re election campaign are as good as gone unless he can show more even handed policies when dealing with Israel and Palestinians. Some analysts even feared that his opportunity to reconcile with the Arab voters had already gone past the point of no return with his unconditional support and military aid to Israel even as it continued its genocidal path in Gaza.

Netanyahu’s nightmare

This ruling cements the global perception that Israel has overstepped the limits this time. Years of clever media manipulation and playing victim whilst actually transgressing, harping on the Holocaust to gain sympathy and  using the label of anti-Semitism against  its opponents have proven to be a damp squid this time. Support for Israel globally which rose post October 7th, began to evaporate once the cruel and barbaric manner of their assault on Gaza began to filter through social media. Decades and billions of shekels spent  carefully building up the image of Israel as the only democratic country in the Middle East hemmed in by Arab countries ruled by despots and autocrats, the West true friend, etc has been undone in the space of a few months. Although the governments might have still been obligated to support Israel, the citizens of the western countries are openly supporting Palestine and calling Israel as an apartheid state, something unheard of until a few months back. So Netanyahu is facing a trust deficit among the western public.

Within his own country, the majority of Israelis blame him for Oct 7 and want him to go. His stated war aims of 1) Freeing the hostages taken by Hamas and 2) Destroying Hamas completely  after more than 110 days of fierce fighting has come to naught.  Hamas has surprised everyone with their ingenuity, tenacity and fighting skills. America, analysts everywhere and even his own generals are saying that Hamas is an idea that cannot be destroyed. No one single hostage has been found and extricated safely home. The Hamas leadership in Gaza are still intact and fighting. Casualties in terms of numbers of troops killed and wounded are rising every day. The number of armoured vehicles damaged or destroyed in the Gaza fighting  continues to climb everyday. The economy is heading south with big drop in visitors, shutting down of its ports, economic activities slowing down to a walking pace etc means that the conflict in Gaza is munching a big hole in Israel’s economy.

This ICJ ruling is the worst news in Netanyahu’s reckonings. He needs something tangible to offer to his unhappy voters. Although he talks big about ignoring the ICJ rulings, he knows failure to comply will be bad  news for Israel’s international image. So he needs to deliver some tangible results. So  some quick wins will be timely. Already, Israel, America and Qatar are discussing the terms for prisoner exchange  and the terms for a permanent ceasefire. If he can get this obtained through this mediation by Qatar and the US,  then he can offset the damage caused by the ICJ ruling. So a ceasefire can possibly be arranged despite his obvious contempt for the ICJ.


Friday’s ICJ is indeed a landmark decision and it puts Israel and its allies on the back foot.  America and Israel’s western allies   are now being put on trial in terms of their commitment to a global rules-based order by helping ensure that Israel’s compliance with this watershed ruling. Rather than continuing to assist Israeli crimes, the U.S. should pressure Israel to stop its military operations and secure a ceasefire, and to ensure the provision of urgently needed humanitarian assistance and basic necessities for life to Palestinians in Gaza. It is already late in the day but not too late to avert a major catastrophe.

Source: Abu Umair

28th January 2024

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