The only hospital treating cancer patients in Gaza closed two days ago for lack of fuel. Its closure was reported by the head of Doctors Without Borders working out of the occupied Palestinian territory. In desperation, he pleaded for the “bloodbath” to stop. Because even they, professionals trained to serve in conflict zones, can no longer work in Gaza. They have had to leave to avoid being killed themselves. It is in conflicts such as the one we are now witnessing that the application of the law is vital. As International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan says, we need the law more than ever before. Not in abstract or theoretical terms, but in practical terms: law that is enacted.
The fact that the law is not working as a tool to contain the conflict is a political problem, rather than a legal one. A complex institutional and normative architecture has been established for decades consisting of treaties, conventions, rules of war, international law and humanitarian law, all of which make it clear that civilians should not be targets of war. The United Nations, which has been central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1947, has its hands tied. Its Security Council could sanction Israel economically or apply other measures in a bid to stop its bombardment of Gaza; it could even instigate military action, but this will not happen because the U.S., a permanent UN member and supporter of Netanyahu’s government, vetoes it. A couple of weeks ago, Washington blocked a resolution proposed by Brazil calling for “humanitarian pauses” in Gaza and condemning attacks on civilians on both sides. Even if the Council were to pass a resolution, it might not be effective. For instance, in 2016 when Jewish settlements in the West Bank were declared illegal by the UN, Israel not only failed to curb their expansion, but accelerated it.
The reality is that the law is clear on the fact there are violations being committed, but the international community is failing to apply the rules it has agreed to. This has devastating consequences: we are witnessing a live massacre with the sense that no one is going to stop it. Politically, the West has shot itself in the foot. Although not all countries have taken the same stance and the European Union rectified its initial position, this may be the worst message we have sent the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. After the West’s massive support for Kyiv following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its attitude towards the Palestinians is even more obscene.
Western double standards are already being exploited by China and Russia, which are gaining muscle in the so-called global south. In an interview several days ago, former French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, said that when he travels to Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, he is always challenged on the West’s condemnation of the war in Ukraine and the restraint it has shown when it comes to Israel’s actions in Gaza. Authoritarian regimes like those in Beijing and Moscow are going to take advantage of a situation we will have given to them on a plate.
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