Ghassan Khatib
Bitterlemons (Opinion)
August 8, 2011 - 12:00am

Ten years after Israel started building a Wall in the occupied West Bank, the project has not proven Israeli arguments in its defense, but rather illustrated the Palestinian view that this is one more component of illegal Israeli settlement expansion. Israel, for the most part, said that the Wall was needed for its security. In response, Palestinians asked why then it was built to incorporate settlements into Israel, rather than on the internationally-recognized 1967 borders between Israel and the West Bank.

Early on, Palestinians took this case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Palestinians argued that the Wall was just as illegal as the Jewish settlements--facts on the ground meant to change demographics--in the occupied territories. The court agreed, ruling in an advisory opinion that both the Wall and the settlements are illegal according to international humanitarian law, and that the Wall should be dismantled and Palestinians compensated for damages incurred.

The fact that the international legal system and the international community, especially the United Nations, subsequently failed to bring Israel to respect and implement the ruling of the court had a very negative effect (justifiably) on international legality and the international system in the eyes of the Palestinian public. It also probably negatively affected public confidence in the Palestinian leadership. This was likely one of the factors contributing to the internal Palestinian political shift in favor of the opposition.

Another legal aspect of this issue that needs to be addressed is the incompatibility between international legality and the Israeli "legal system". Ultimately, domestic laws in any country should be consistent with international law and international humanitarian law. The fact that the Israeli legal system continues, in many court rulings, to justify construction on the Wall, despite the International Court of Justice's ruling, exposes a significant defect in the Israeli legal system.

Recent developments in which the Palestinian Authority, cooperating with Israel, has succeeded in fulfilling its security obligations, together with changes in Palestinian public opinion away from violent resistance and armed struggle, have produced a period of marked calm. There is almost no armed response by Palestinians to the Israeli occupation. Nevertheless, Israel has continued building the Wall, proving that its objectives are actually related to the Israeli strategy of maintaining and increasing control over as much as possible of the occupied territories as possible.

Moreover, it is clear that the Wall, rather than serving its declared objectives of ending violence, is being built at the expense of the fundamental rights of Palestinians, who are losing land, livelihoods, and access to services because of it. As a result, the Wall has become a major source of tension and instability in an expanding number of localities. Nilin and Bilin villages have become famous for their regular demonstrations against the Wall. But the number of areas that see regular confrontations by Palestinian activists against the Wall has increased to no less than 15 villages around the West Bank.

The settlements and the Wall--especially in East Jerusalem and its environs--are realities on the ground that are entirely incompatible with the two-state solution, which requires the creation of a Palestinian state in the exact areas they are built on. For that reason, this project--still unfinished--is not only harmful to current peace efforts, but also makes peace less possible in the long run. The only peaceful solution that has been imagined by the parties and the international community is a two-state solution along the borders of 1967--which is now gradually becoming impossible.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017