Palestine UN mission waited 10 years for this moment, says envoy

Special Palestine UN mission waited 10 years for this moment, says envoy
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad H. Mansour speaks during a meeting of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee at UN headquarters on Nov. 11, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 14 November 2022

Palestine UN mission waited 10 years for this moment, says envoy

Palestine UN mission waited 10 years for this moment, says envoy
  • Israelis surprised by Palestinian ‘audacity’ as world body votes to ask International Court of Justice’s opinion on the legality of occupation

AMMAN: It is now clear that Israel cannot keep pushing its narrative of doing no wrong while at the same time pursuing annexationist policies and denying “our people’s right to self-determination,” said Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s representative at the UN.

He was speaking after a key UN committee approved a draft resolution calling on the International Court of Justice to urgently issue an opinion on the legal consequences of denying the Palestinian people the right to self-determination as a result of Israel’s actions since the 1967 war.

Friday’s vote in the General Assembly’s Special Political and Decolonization Committee was 98-17, with 52 abstentions.

The general assembly is expected to vote on the resolution in December.

“In history sometimes a moment comes that will not be repeated. You must act decisively when that moment arrives. If you are late or if you are early, you will not have the same effect.” This was how Mansour described to Arab News the UN committee’s decision to ask the ICJ to adjudicate on the legal status of the occupied Palestinian territories.

For 10 years Mansour and his team have been studying, consulting and preparing for this action — in Geneva, Amman, twice in Ireland, and other locations.

In theory, international law is on the side of Mansour and the Palestinians and what they needed was the right political moment for the international community to support such a courageous act.

On the ground, conditions have been worsening in the occupied territories. Israeli repression has continued and the Palestinians’ human rights have been routinely violated.

There has been consensus among international human rights organizations that the prolonged Israeli occupation has created apartheid-style conditions in the area between the river and the sea.

Mansour and his team had been working to win over the Americans since the election of President Joe Biden, without much success.

“Since this summer we have been in serious discussions. We talked about the need to protect and save the two-state solution, we told them we will do it in the UN Security Council where the US is more comfortable than in the general assembly,” he said.

What Palestinian diplomats wanted was a decision by the UN Security Council — without a US veto — to recognize Palestine as a full member of the UN.

Recognizing Palestine as a full UN member state, even under occupation, would mean that the world community was serious about the two-state solution, he argued in his remarks to Arab News.

The Americans were not willing to budge, however. The Palestinians then asked the US to produce their own plan, and again the Americans were not willing to cooperate especially with the Naftali Bennet/Yair Lapid/Benny Gantz coalition in power.

The loss of those Israeli friends of Washington and the rise of Benjamin Netanyahu and the far-right racist elements provided the Palestinian leadership with a rare moment to act.

“We knew that asking for a legal opinion of the International Court of Justice will not be popular. It is also very costly to the UN budget, but we had to act.”

In previous cases, no country that had made a similar move had been able to gain a large voting bloc.

The UN decision calls for “an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the illegality of Israel’s ‘occupation’ of Palestinian territories on the grounds that it can be considered de-facto annexation.”

Mansour explains that international humanitarian law has codified how countries should act during a temporary occupation.

“But this is a 55-year-old occupation and so it is not temporary. The court, the highest court in the world, must decide that it is an occupation that leads to annexation which would be illegal — this will have consequences for all states in the world."

Mansour said that the Israelis and others were surprised by the audacity of the Palestinians to seek such a legal stipulation.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the fact that Ukraine supported the resolution.

“Arabs have been regularly supporting Ukraine and so it was natural for them to support a clear case of international law,” Mansour said.

He said it was a historic decision but warned there were challenges ahead.

“It is not a silver bullet, but it is now clear that the Israelis cannot keep pushing their narrative while at the same time pursuing annexationist policies and denying our people’s right to self-determination.”