10 July 2004
Yesterday's ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague on the wall Israel is building in the West Bank may have little immediate effect. The brutal reality is that the International Court may have moral authority but it has virtually no means of enforcing its findings other than through persuasion. The Israelis have already dismissed it as irrelevant and are determined to ignore it. Even if the Palestinians do get the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council they are now demanding, the US would almost certainly veto any action while the British would at best simply abstain. As for the people on the ground, this will appear as one more piece of fruitless waffle in the West divorced from their lives and their concerns.
And yet the Palestinian leadership would be wrong to dismiss The Hague ruling as unimportant and they would be unwise to throw away - as they have so often in the past - a real opportunity to gather around them some badly needed international support for their cause. Ever since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon started building the wall two years ago the Palestinians have condemned it as a land grab, intended to alter permanently Israel's borders and to include within an enlarged state most of the West Bank settlements.
Israel has vigorously denied the charge, saying the wall, or "fence" as it prefers to call it, is there as a security boundary to keep terrorists out and Israeli citizens safe within. But last week the Israeli High Court, while not condemning the wall as such, did find against the government for infringing the rights of Palestinians along its course. Now the International Court has gone one step further, describing the wall as "tantamount to annexation" where it infringes on Palestinian territory, and urging that it be torn down where it does stray across the 1967 borders.
What the Palestinian Authority now needs to do is to use this judgment to push its case diplomatically around the world, particularly in Europe. Even Washington will find it difficult now to justify the building of a wall it has never really approved of. What the PA must not do is to drown out its case in a flurry of high rhetoric and impossible demands, followed by despair and violence. The worst sequel to this judgment would be more terrorist outrages justifying the security case for a wall. The Palestinians have the moral high ground. They need to build on it.