August 1, 2004 | Op-ed

The Other Perspective

Authored by Andrew Apostolou

The International Court of Justice's recent decision to condemn Israel's security barrier has damaged the credibility of international law.

The court claimed the barrier is illegal, that Israel should pull it down and that the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council should consider taking action. The decision only serves to further stoke the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some will argue that the July 9 ruling should be ignored. The judgment is advisory and non-binding.

The Palestinians cannot practically, or politically, enforce the judgment. Yet a real danger stems from the way in which those who practice terrorism have been allowed to manipulate the international legal system.

The international court could have refused to rule. After all, 30 states had objected to the case. These opponents included Britain, France, Russia and the United States, four of the five permanent members of the Security Council who can block any proposed U.N. sanctions on the basis of an ICJ ruling.

The Israeli security barrier is not the kind of dispute that the court was designed to handle. The court, in effect a civil court for sovereign states, is not a criminal court that adjudicates on the laws of war. The notion that the court should decide on the right to use force in international disputes has long been controversial.

The propaganda victory of a favorable ICJ ruling is exactly what Yasser Arafat ordered. For Palestinians, the aim is to delegitimize Israel. Their propaganda campaign is not about promoting the right of the Palestinians to a state in the West Bank and Gaza. For too many Palestinians, Israeli control of the West Bank is actually a positive as it could end up destroying Israel itself.

Fortunately, Israel seems to have no intention of playing into Arafat's hands. The national unity government currently under discussion could give Prime Minister Ariel Sharon the political strength to withdraw all Israelis from the Gaza Strip before making similar moves in the West Bank.

The Israelis will, in effect, force separation, an end to the occupation and de-facto independence upon the Palestinians. Most Israelis want an end to conflict, to stop occupying Palestinian areas and to dismantle most settlements.

By contrast, many Palestinians seem to want the occupation to endure, so that they can continue their struggle, a sentiment now fortified with the international legality of an ICJ ruling.

Andrew Apostolou is director of research for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.