‘Ruling a triumph for international law, protection of human lives’

President Cyril Ramaphosa during the delivery of the judgment by the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Picture: Timothy Bernard/ Independent Newspapers.

President Cyril Ramaphosa during the delivery of the judgment by the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Picture: Timothy Bernard/ Independent Newspapers.

Published Jan 28, 2024



Three months after winning the Rugby World Cup, our country has again made headlines around the globe and is basking in the animation and admiration of some.

As with the viewing of the RWC matches, some arranged group viewings of the interim judgment passed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but unlike the RWC final, we are divided on its outcome.

Despite this division, all of us can be proud to be South Africans. Even if some of us disagree with the notion that Israel is committing genocide, the interim ruling is a triumph for international law and the protection of human lives and rights, everywhere, even in Israel.

Political commentary before the ruling suggested that the judgement would go along national political stances, that is the American judge would take her cue from the US policy towards the conflict. This was not so. The court stuck to the law.

Even in the case of the first African woman ever to sit on the court and dissenting Ugandan judge, Julia Sebutinde, the Ugandan ambassador to the UN came out to state that her dissenting judgement “does not represent the government of Uganda’s position on the situation in Palestine.”

Poignantly, the court did not instruct the ‘c’ word. Maybe because it is a political word. Asked whether she was disappointed that the ICJ had not instructed a ceasefire, international relations and cooperation minister, Naledi Pandor, expressed that in her view if Israel did as the court instructed it would practically result in a ceasefire.

In his response to the interim judgement, Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, opened his statement by declaring daringly that “Israel’s commitment to international law is unwavering.”

Yet he called the court’s determination of a plausibility of genocide “false” and “outrageous”.

Still this is not the first time that Israel has been dragged to the ICJ.

In 2004, the court ruled that the apartheid wall built on the West Bank by the occupying power was a violation of international law. Israel ignored that ruling. Netanyahu was Israeli finance minister at the time and had financed the project.

In a response to a question on whether she hopes Israel would abide by the ruling, Pandor expressed that she has never really been hopeful of Israel “but Israel has very powerful friends” that she hopes these “will advise Israel that they should act in terms of the order.”

She is correct. Our focus must now turn to those countries in the West, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany in particular, who have aided and abetted Israel in her actions in Gaza where the plausibility of genocide, as pronounced by the court, now exists.

Stepping back on his comment that our application to the ICJ was ‘meritless’, the US department of state produced a curt statement detailing the telephone call between the US secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, and Minister Pandor, held on the eve of the judgment.

The conversation included sentiments that there was “the need to protect civilian lives, ensure sustained humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians, and work towards lasting regional peace that ensures Israel’s security and advances the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”

Yet hitherto, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state has been the chasm between Washington and Tel Aviv because the Netanyahu regime has vehemently opposed the establishment of such a state.

Already, the Biden administration has had to deal with the fallout between Netanyahu and Qatar as a result of disparaging remarks made by the Israeli leader towards Doha. In a leaked recording Netanyahu was quoted as saying that “Qatar…is no different in essence than the United Nations… and the Red Cross, [Qatar] is even more problematic.”

These remarks once again re-affirms not only what Netanyahu thinks of international institutions such as the UN, of which the ICJ is a principal organ, but also further isolates Israel in the region because Qatar is the only other country, with Egypt, prepared to assist Israel in negotiating with Hamas.

It is therefore for Biden administration to use the interim judgement as leverage to soften Netanyahu’s approach and be more cautious in its support of Israel. As the department of international relations and cooperation statement in the wake of the judgement correctly points out, given now the prima facie case of genocide against Israel “this necessarily imposes an obligation on all states to cease funding and facilitating Israel’s military actions, which are plausibly genocidal.”

In October last year alone, the US Congress granted an ‘additional’ $14 billion (about R263 billion) to Israel in aid. The total envisaged package being $105 billion (about R1.9 trillion).

In this US election year, we should also wish that the Biden administration would be loath to have it being accused of being party to genocide.

Naturally, we would expect western democracies to adhere to the rule of law, especially after reassurances from US National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby, speaking at a White House press conference in the aftermath of the ICJ ruling, expressing that the United States had been calling and urging for most, if not all, of what the court had ordered.

What is also equally critical for the international community is the sentiments expressed by Minister Pandor in the lead up to the interim judgement. For her the test was not so much whether the court would hold Israel accountable but rather whether international institutions, such as the ICJ, would protect all peoples everywhere.

This is significant because in the judgement itself the court repeatedly mentions a number of UN agencies and organisations that were involved and/or which had spoken out on the situation in Gaza in the last three months.

In highlighting these, the court passed Pandor’s test but we will have to wait and see what the outcome of deliberations on the matter would be in the UN Security Council, which is the implementing agent.

Should the UN Security Council be paralysed, as it has been in the last 16 weeks, with the US or even the UK exercising its veto right to protect Israel, it would prove the thinking of people such as Pandor and the party she belongs to, the ANC, correct that global institutions, such as the UN and the UNSC particularly, need to be reformed.

With South Africa’s application to the ICJ there were murmurings that it should have consulted with other African states and the African Union. Through the sole dissenting judgement in most instances of the order, Sebutinde ruled that the matter was a political rather than a legal one and this again illustrates just how divided the African continent remains on the injustices committed by Israel.

Ironically, it is immensely sad that the ruling came on the eve of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. While the world was preparing to remember that horrible tragedy of eight decades ago and vowing again that it would never happen again, a regime was being accused of similar crimes.

All of this spells one conclusion. Israel does not need to be protected from Hamas, the Palestinians or its neighbours in the Middle East. If anything, Israel must be protected from Benjamin Netanyahu.

*Seale has a PhD in international relations.

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL