International law is not an area of law that the mainstream media engages with or refers to frequently. When international law does feature in the media, it often gets bad press. The current situation in Israel-Palestine is a case in point. It is not just that international law has been flouted by the parties to the present violence. The root cause of the violence may be traced to a consistent breach of the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to live in their own state, rather than living as refugees in their own country.  

As the ceasefire was announced the conflict left 12 Israelis and 230 Palestinians dead. Moreover, the Israeli strikes also caused many more injured and wounded as well a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. No one came out well from this latest escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israel government once again has breached international humanitarian law rules on proportionality and attacking civilian infrastructure. The destruction of the building which housed Al Jazeera and Associated Press being a case in point. Hamas was also breaching international law by firing rockets indiscriminately into the south of Israel.

The US administration under President Biden proved for the umpteenth time that when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the US   cannot act as a mediator. The US administration blocked several United Nations Security Council statements on Gaza as well as a resolution drafted by France. The US’ unwavering support for Israel even when it breaches international law remains a major obstacle to a durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The European Union has, as usual, been ineffective when it comes to foreign policy. It will doubtless (once again) foot a substantial part of the costs for rebuilding Gaza, but it is unable to take the lead and be a forceful foreign policy player in its near neighbourhood.

Palestinians celebrate in Ramallah city centre in support of the resistance in Gaza, after the ceasefire. Photo: ShutterstockPalestinians celebrate in Ramallah city centre in support of the resistance in Gaza, after the ceasefire. Photo: Shutterstock

In order to understand the current escalation of violence, it is essential to examine the root causes of the conflict. The immediate trigger of the recent violence was the eviction of Palestinian from the East Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah where they have lived for generations. However, these evictions are simply a manifestation of the constant and continuous erosion of the right of Palestinians to live in their homes. For decades they have been harassed and hounded out of their homes increasingly encroached upon by Israeli settlements.

That settlements are illegal in international law is indisputable. That international law through UN Security Council resolution 242 has mandated the complete withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territory is equally indisputable. And yet the settlements are still there and the evictions of Palestinians continue.  The two-state solution, which a large portion of the international community (including the EU) support, would provide Palestinians with the dignity they are entitled to and with a state able to ensure the recognition of their rights. However, the viability of this solution has persistently been eroded through the expansion of Israeli settlements.

This failure to uphold the international rule of law has left Palestinians frustrated and helpless. Hamas have taken advantage of this helplessness in Gaza by offering the false promise of violence.  The Israeli government has taken advantage of Hamas’ pointless attacks on Israel to inflict further punishment on the people of Gaza destroying the little infrastructure that remains and swelling the ranks of the dispossessed and the desperate.   

We have been hearing much about the importance of the rule of law in domestic affairs. It is time that the international community, including the USA, recalls that the international rule of law is equally fundamental and that unless its tenets are respected in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the root causes of this conflict will remain unaddressed.  

Omar Grech is a senior lecturer in international law and director of the Centre for the Study and Practice of Conflict Resolution at the University of Malta.

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