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A Step Towards Peace? The ICJ Ruling and its Consequences for the Situation in Israel-Palestine

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Staff Writer Charley Dennis argues that the ICJ’s ruling on Israel is a crucial development and examines whether it will bring an end to hostilities.

Last month’s provisional decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was a monumental development in the situation unfolding in the Gaza Strip, as Israel was ordered to commit to preventing acts of genocide in their offensive against Hamas forces. South Africa brought the case to the Hague under the charge that Israel’s actions, in retaliation to the events of October 7th, have constituted genocide. Although the conclusion of this trial could take years, the country also requested “nine urgent provisional measures” to protect civilians in the meantime. The recent ruling handed down by the ICJ regards these provisional measures and the legal standards by which the conflict must continue.

The last five months of this conflict have seen tragic civilian casualties and controversial acts of warfare with the death toll already surpassing 28,000. ITV recently captured IDF forces shooting a surrendering civilian which, again, sparked international accusations of war crimes – although these continued to be brushed off by Western leaders. This footage has come after prior accusations of the use of white phosphorus in densely populated Gaza, something considered illegal by a slew of legal scholars. While the court has stopped short of ordering a ceasefire, it has set a precedent for further litigation if Israel continues down this path.

The ICJ’s recent ruling might represent a turning point in the story of this conflict – potentially a wake-up call for Israel as the charge of genocide has been considered ‘plausible’ by the court. Simply asserting Israel’s duty to abide by the Genocide Convention and not throwing out South Africa’s case might dilute the bullishness of Netanyahu and his war cabinet – yet this wasn’t the desired result for South Africa.

The ruling on the plausibility of genocide in the Gaza Strip was hoped to conclude with an order for a ceasefire by South Africa, but the courts did not extend this resolution to the case. This ruling by the ICJ has demanded Israel “take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts” which constitute genocide according to the convention’s definition. Although this sounds like a step forward, it merely rules that Israel must abide by a law to which they had already agreed (through their ratification of the convention).

This being said, the provisional measures to both “ensure the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” and “take all measures within its power to prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide” could establish a standard to which Israel’s actions can now be judged within the public sphere. Yoav Gallant, Israel’s Defence Minister, should be expected to consider his words more carefully; he announced Israel’s offensive as a war on ‘human animals’ before declaring the siege would cut off all food, water and electricity to the Gaza Strip – which begs the question of who exactly he is referring to? Crucially, as part of the ICJ’s ruling, Israel is expected to submit a report on these issues in a month, which shifts the spotlight onto their proceeding actions and response to this ruling.

With the focus on Israel, it is clear that Netanyahu must consider all avenues to bring the conflict to a close and formulate a viable solution to the problems in the region– something which ensures the return of remaining hostages, as well as options for the future of the Palestinian people. The situation in the region is rapidly escalating as the Yemen’s insurgent Houthi faction have continued to disrupt global commercial interests through their attempted blockade of the Red Sea. The domestic situation in Israel has been just as strained as people have begun to question the government’s priorities in this conflict; families of the remaining hostages recently charged into the Knesset to demand the government do more to secure the release of their missing family members, rather than prioritise the hunt for Hamas’ leaders.

It is clear that the price of this conflict is starting to weigh on Israel and its allies, and this could produce a proper resolution. Nevertheless, those watching the situation should remain cautious of raising their hopes; the Israeli response to the ruling has been disheartening. Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel’s Minister of National Security, made his feelings toward the ICJ clear, posting the words “Hague schmague” on X. A more alarming development is government ministers’ attendance at an event promoting the resettlement of the Gaza Strip, which presages the further expansion of Israel’s borders beyond the boundaries established by the Oslo Accords.

Although the ICJ’s ruling might offer some hope for those with any respect for international law and global security, it seems unlikely that this will bring a much-needed conclusion to this bloody conflict.

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