Defining the Conflict in a Time for Accountability

Defining the Conflict in a Time for Accountability

Defining and redefining the parameters of the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict is intrinsic to the conflict, because the ongoing lack of consensus on “what this conflict is about” gives rise to conflicting models of solutions. Recently for instance, proposals have been made to “revise” the Arab/Saudi Peace initiative by diluting its provisions on Palestinian refugees' right of return, in order to accommodate Israel's interest in “re-defining the conflict as a border dispute” (Tzipi Livni, 12 March).

The conflict continues to be defined as religious, ethnic, colonial, apartheid, with models of solutions spanning from a rights-based approach to the politically-driven model based on the principle of 'land for peace'. The UN has been a 'divided house' as to the nature of and solution to the conflict (See 'Known Knowns' and 'Unknown Unknowns': the UN and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, by Terry Rempel). The role of the international community, particularly the European Union and the United States, in fostering a 'just peace' is being re-evaluated by many who question the commitment of these players to international law and democracy (See The Palestinian People at Cross-Roads, by Ingrid Jaradat Gassner and US Policy and Palestinian Rights: Is there a Way to Shift American Gears? by Nadia Hijab).


  While the racist nature of Israel's regime and policies is known to Palestinians, the Palestinian National Liberation Movement has often failed to bring this to the forefront of its struggle and incorporate it into its strategy for national liberation (See Israel: The racist ghetto, by Nidal Azzeh and A Call to Redefine the Conflict from a Palestinian Perspective, by Nihad Boqai'). Renewed efforts at redefining the conflict under these terms are currently being launched, particularly among Palestinians in Israel, who are requesting equal rights in Israel and challenging the Jewish character of the state (See The Future Vision of The Palestinian-Arabs in Israel, by As'ad Ghanem).

 At the same time, former US President Jimmy Carter's book Peace not Apartheid has stirred considerable debate in the United States and around the world about the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the applicability of the concept of apartheid (See The Carter effect: What Mr. President says – and does not say, by Shahira Samy). Similarly, Prof. John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, reiterated in his latest report that there are elements of Israel's prolonged military occupation of the OPT which constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid.(1) The Rapporteur noted that the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid appears to be violated by a number of Israeli practices.

 The Special Rapporteur also called upon the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to examine what are the “legal consequences of a regime of prolonged occupation with features of colonialism and apartheid for the occupied people, the occupying Power, and third States?” He further noted that the OPT are the only instance of a developing country denied the right to self-determination and oppressed by a Western-affiliated regime and called upon Western States to take steps to bring such situation to an end, in order to safeguard the future of the international human rights regime. Based on the principle of third state responsibility, all members of the United Nations have a legal obligation to protect the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people and take measures to ensure that Israel respects international law.

 In February, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) also reviewed Israel's performance under the Convention on on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. CERD concluded that a number of state practices in Israel and the OPT constitute apartheid and segregation and sent a clear call for equality between Jews and Palestinians, including equality in the right to return to one's country and repossess property. (See The UN Anti-Racism Committee Questions Israel's Policy of Apartheid..., by Badil staff).

 In reaction to the impossibility to seek redress in Israeli courts, a number of initiatives are underway to pressure Israel to respect international law, such as a the use of universal jurisdiction to bring cases in US and European courts. (See The Role of Universal Jurisdiction in the Fight Against Impunity, by Maria Lahood).

 While legal actions are becoming increasingly important in the fight against occupation, colonialism and apartheid, civil society campaigns, such as the Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS), are vital for building pressure on states to enforce international law. Every week, new organizations join the BDS campaign to raise awareness of Israel's policies against the Palestinians (See the BDS Update). More pressure aimed at isolating and shaming Israel for its non-implementation of international law is necessary, particularly in light of the 40th anniversary of occupation in 2007 and the 60th commemoration of the Nakba in 2008.

 In the meantime, Palestinian refugees around the world continue to face persecution, displacement, and detention (See Searching for Solutions for Palestinian Refugees Stuck in and Fleeing Iraq, by Badil staff and US Incarceration of Palestinian Children under Operation Return to Sender, by Karen Pennington). Their plight obliges to both, action for immediate and effective protection, and a determined effort for a rights-based solution derived from a definition of the conflict which is squarely based on international law.


(1) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, John Dugard, Human Rights Council, A/HRC/4/17, 29 January 2007, pp. 2-3.