Question of Palestine home
"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
International Court of Justice (ICJ)
30 January 2004
ICJ Advisory Opinion - Unofficial Summary of Israel’s written submission
In July 2002, faced with an unprecedented wave of suicide bombings, and following a month in which 37 separate terrorist attacks resulted in the murder of 135 people, and injured 721, in buses, malls and restaurants, Israel decided to construct a temporary security fence as a defensive and non-violent means of preventing the unimpeded access of Palestinian suicide bombers into Israel’s towns and villages.
On 8 December 2003, the 10th Emergency Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly requested an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences arising from the construction by Israel of a “wall” in “occupied Palestinian Territory”. The Court requested interested states, along with certain international organizations and “Palestine”, to make submissions setting out their views on the question.
Along with many other states, Israel is strongly of the view that the Court is not the appropriate forum for discussion of this issue. Accordingly, Israel decided not to enter into a substantive discussion of the security fence before the Court, but rather to set out, in a detailed 130 page document, the reasons why it believes that the Court does not have jurisdiction in the matter, and why, even if had, it should exercise its discretion to decline to hear the case.
Running through many of Israel’s arguments are two fundamental concerns about the request for an Advisory Opinion: its total silence on the reason for the fence, Palestinian terrorism, and the damage the request is likely to cause to the agreed Roadmap process.
Silence on Palestinian terror
Neither the question referred to the Court, nor the 20-paragraph General Assembly resolution referring it, makes any reference – not a single word - to the ongoing terrorism directed daily against Israel and its citizens. Similarly the extensive dossier of 88 documents on the question provided to the Court by the United Nations is, staggeringly, totally silent on the subject of Palestinian terrorist attacks. It is devoid of any of the United Nations resolutions condemning terrorism, as well as Israel’s letters to the Secretary General detailing the terror attacks it has faced.
These attacks, though suicide bombings, car bombs, drive-by shootings and stabbings, have left 916 children, women and men dead in the past 40 months of violence and thousands injured and scarred. Over the past 12 months, 218 people have been murdered in terrorist attacks, including two families which lost 5 members each, across three generations, in a suicide bomb attack at Maxim’s restaurant in Haifa in October 2003.
At the same time Israel has faced chilling threats of “mega-terror” attacks, including an attempt to blow up the Azrielli twin skyscrapers and the Pi Glilot gas and oil depot in Tel Aviv.
It is inconceivable that the ICJ should be requested to give an Advisory Opinion on the issue of Israel’s security fence at the behest of the very terrorist organization which has been actively behind many of the murderous attacks which have made the fence necessary. It is even more inconceivable that the request should make no reference at all to the brutal reality of terrorism faced by Israel. Indeed, at the time of transmitting Israel’s submission to the ICJ, Jerusalem suffered yet another terrorist atrocity, when a suicide bomber blew up a bus in the city center, killing at least ten people and maiming dozens.
Undermining the Roadmap
The request for an Advisory Opinion flies directly in the face of the only initiative for resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict accepted by the sides and approved by the international community – the Roadmap. This comprehensive approach to resolving all issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was sponsored by the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation, and has been accepted by the parties. It was specifically endorsed by the Security Council in resolution 1515 less than three weeks before the Palestinian initiative to request an Advisory Opinion.
The Roadmap addresses the totality of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and sets out an agreed sequence of parallel obligations to bring the two sides back to meaningful negotiations. The Roadmap was carefully negotiated and represents a delicate balance. The request to the Court undermines this balance by seeking to prejudge matters agreed to be negotiated and undercut the carefully constructed scheme for resolving the conflict.
In taking up this request the Court would also be giving a green light to further attempts to bring the Middle East dispute piecemeal to the Court and away from the negotiating table. It is likely that other conflicts in other regions may well suffer the same fate.
Jurisdiction and Propriety
With these concerns uppermost in its mind, Israel contends (a) that the Court lacks jurisdiction to consider the advisory opinion request, and (b) that even it if did have jurisdiction, it should exercise its discretion to decline to respond to the request:
(iv) The Court lacks jurisdiction in this case
The request for the Advisory Opinion was outside the competence of the Emergency Special Session which made it. This Emergency Special Session was convened under the “Uniting for Peace” procedure. Under its own rules, this procedure is available only where “the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security”. In the current case there has been no such failure by the Security Council. To the contrary, less than 19 days before the Emergency Special Session adopted the Advisory Opinion resolution, the Security Council exercised this responsibility by endorsing the Roadmap in resolution 1515 and declaring itself to be “seized of the matter”. The issue of requesting an Advisory Opinion, it should be noted, was never raised before the Security Council.
Additionally, the Uniting for Peace procedure provides that it is only applicable when the General Assembly is “not in session at the time”. On this occasion, however, the General Assembly was meeting in regular session at the very time the Emergency Special Session was convened to consider the advisory opinion request. Moreover, the “Resumed” nature of the Emergency Special Session - convened on 12 separate occasions since April 1997 is clearly at odds with the intent of a procedure which envisages the convening of an emergency session to address a specific issue of immediate concern.
As regards the jurisdiction of the Court, its Statute as well as the UN Charter provide that an Advisory Opinion can only be given on a “legal question”. The question posed in this case is so vague and uncertain as to be incapable of being considered a “legal question”. It gives no indication whether the Court is being asked to find that a given situation is unlawful, or merely to assume its illegality. Further, it asks the Court to ascertain “legal consequences” without indicating for whom, even though legal consequences cannot exist in a vacuum.
(b) The Court should exercise its discretion to decline the request.
Even if the Court were to consider that it has jurisdiction, it has discretion to refuse a request for an Advisory Opinion where this would be incompatible with its judicial functions.
In particular, the jurisprudence of the ICJ makes it clear that the Court should decline to give an Advisory Opinion when to do so would effectively evade the principle that a state is not obligated to allow its disputes to be submitted to judicial settlement without its consent. In this case the subject of the request is clearly a matter of dispute in itself, as well as an integral part of the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And Israel, for its part, has clearly not accepted the jurisdiction of the Court to adjudicate in its dispute with the Palestinians. To the contrary, every agreement between Israel and the Palestinians which relates to the settlement of disputes, provides for negotiation – and not the ICJ - as the agreed means of dispute resolution.
The Court has also determined in its jurisprudence that it should to decline to hear a case where it does not have sufficient evidence and information to arrive at a judicial conclusion. This would appear to be decisive consideration in this case, which would require the Court to undertake the impossible task of addressing issues of fact and law - concerning,
, military necessity, proportionality and effectiveness - at every point along the planned and actual route of the fence. The Court can not, and should not, try to place itself in Israel’s shoes in determining the means by which Palestinian terrorism should be dealt with.
Finally, the fact that “Palestine” - the prime mover behind this request - is the very party whose support for terrorism has made this fence necessary, and has frustrated progress with the agreed Roadmap mechanism for resolving the conflict, is itself a compelling reason for the Court to find that this request has not been made with “clean hands” and to decline to answer.
Beyond the reasons outlined above, why the Court can not, and should not, accede to the request for an Advisory Opinion, a number of procedural issues thus far, already raise the troubling suspicion that the Court itself risks becoming politicized and its standing undermined. Among the issues that give cause for concern are:
(iv) Prejudicial terminology
In titling the case: “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”, the Court has adopted the political and prejudicial terminology of the request itself. The use of the term “wall”, when in fact less than 5 percent of the fence is a concrete barrier and over 95% consists of wire fences with access and crossing points, is clearly propagandist, while the reference to “Occupied Palestinian Territory” is similarly prejudicial, and ignores Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Israel-PLO agreements and the Roadmap which all call for the border between the two sides to be agreed through negotiation.
(ii) Unrealistic Time Limits
While the General Assembly requested that the case be heard “urgently”, the shortness of the time-limits set by the Court is problematic in the extreme. Israel expressed its concerns directly to the Court about the need for a significant period of time to prepare its statement, given the seriousness of a question which goes to the heart of its security needs. The Court nevertheless established a time-table, the speed of which is virtually unprecedented, especially in a case of this complexity.
(iii) Participation of “Palestine”
The Court’s decision to invite “Palestine” to participate in the proceedings has no legal basis in the United Nations Charter or the Statute or Rules of the Court, which allow only for the participation of states parties to the Court’s Statute and international organizations.
(iv) Prior involvement of Judges in the dispute.
Israel has raised the question of possible bias within the Court, as a result the direct involvement in the Israel-Palestinian dispute of one of the Members of the Court who, in his former official positions, advocated and spearheaded political campaigns against Israel, including the origination of the very Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly which referred this Advisory Opinion request to the Court. Israel has noted that participation by such a judge would create an unacceptable appearance of bias.
The request for an Advisory Opinion willfully ignores the brutal campaign of terrorism that is integral to any serious consideration of Israel’s security fence. It also flies in the face of the Roadmap, which remains the only agreed mechanism for the parties to return to negotiations and resolve their conflict. It is for these reasons that, notwithstanding the massive voting block wielded by the Arab group in the General Assembly, the vote requesting an Advisory Opinion failed to gain the support of a majority of the members of the United Nations. Significantly, all the state members of the Quartet – including all the members of the European Union - either voted against the resolution or abstained.
Israel recognizes that there are states which have concerns about the security fence and its route. Many of these concerns are shared in Israel, and are at the moment the subject of internal judicial and political review. But the crucial question before the Court is whether, by acceding to this political request, the Court would actually be setting back the prospects for a peaceful resolution of differences between the parties.
The Representative of Singapore expressed the concerns of many about this initiative in the Emergency Special Session debate. Explaining that his country has consistently supported the Palestinian position in the General Assembly, and indeed has supported every one of the Assembly’s 17 pro-Palestinian resolutions, he felt constrained not to support the Advisory Opinion request, stating: “We do not consider it appropriate to involve the ICJ in this dispute in his way”. And, as the Representative of Uganda added: “The solution lies in a negotiated settlement by both sides. That is why, in our opinion, referring the matter to the International Court of Justice, would not serve the cause of peace.”
Full text of Israel's document as presented to the ICJ (pdf 1.7MB)