Palestinians’ Superior Right to Self-defence is Ignored, as Usual

UK’s Cameron/Sunak claptrap turns international law on its head

The UK’s leaders are tying themselves in knots in their desperate attempt to defend the indefensible.

In a debate on Israel and Palestine in Parliament last week, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Affairs Leo Docherty got up and said:

There is no scenario in which Hamas can be allowed to control Gaza again. That is why we are not calling for a general ceasefire, which would allow Hamas to regroup and entrench their position. I am pleased to say that the government’s position is shared by the Opposition Front Bench. Instead, we are focused on urging respect for international law…

What a fatuous statement. If the UK government had any concern for international law Israel would not have been allowed to breach it continuous and with impunity for the last 75 years and the horrendous slaughter we’ve all been watching would never have happened.

As a foreign office minister, Docherty should be aware that Hamas is the legitimate government in Gaza, having won the last election fair and square. Israel, the US and UK might not like the result but that’s beside the point. What Docherty and his colleagues are contemplating is coercive regime change, which is hardly in line with international law or Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

Meanwhile, David Cameron, hurriedly parachuted in from outside Parliament as our new Foreign Secretary and breaching all democratic niceties, was telling everyone that there can be no resolution to the conflict in the Middle East if Hamas is still “armed to the teeth” and capable of attacking Israel. And he defended the UK’s decision to abstain on the UN vote for a Gaza ceasefire on the grounds that the UN was calling for an immediate armistice plus a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, and “those two things don’t go together… If you have an immediate ceasefire but Hamas [is] still armed to the teeth, launching rockets into Israel, wanting to repeat 7 October, you’ll never have a two-state solution.

“Long-term security I think requires there to be a state for Palestine as well,” he said, sounding wonderfully generous, adding that he did not agree with “disappointing” comments made by Israeli ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, on Wednesday 13 December that Tel Aviv would not back a two-state solution.

Had he been paying attention Cameron would know that the apartheid regime, from its very inception in 1948, has refused to contemplate the existence of a Palestinian state. That would thwart Israel’s ambition to establish sovereignty over the entire territory “from the river to the sea”, which is the express aim of Hotovely’s (and Netanyahu’s) vile party, Likud.

Britain, on the other hand, promised a Palestinian state back in 1915 but repeatedly reneged on it – in 1917, in 1923, in 1948 – and continues to sidestep the issue while forever prattling on about a two-state solution.

Cameron is also saying that Israel “must take stronger action to stop settler violence and hold the perpetrators accountable”. But his lordship should be telling Israel to do much more than that. To comply with international law Israel must remove its settlers and its thuggish military from the West Bank altogether, remembering that the West Bank includes East Jerusalem (and the Old City) and Gaza.

What needs eliminating is the threat posed by Israel

As I write, Cameron is changing tack slightly and now calling for a “sustainable” ceasefire because it has dawned on him that “too many civilians have been killed” by Israel. A joint article in the Sunday Times by him and German Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock comes amid growing pressure on Israel over its methods in the war on Gaza. It states: “We do not believe that calling right now for a general and immediate ceasefire, hoping it somehow becomes permanent, is the way forward. It ignores why Israel is forced to defend itself: Hamas barbarically attacked Israel and still fires rockets to kill Israeli citizens every day.”

The usual misinformation. They ignore why the Palestinians are compelled to defend themselves, i.e. the brutal and murderous decades-long illegal occupation by Israel using military force.

“Hamas must lay down its arms,” say Cameron and Baerbock. And in a tepid warning to Israel, the two foreign ministers say: “Israel has the right to defend itself but, in doing so, it must abide by international humanitarian law. Israel will not win this war if its operations destroy the prospect of peaceful coexistence with Palestinians. They have a right to eliminate the threat posed by Hamas.”

But do they really? Where in international law does it say that an illegal occupier (such as Israel) can claim self-defence against a threat that emanates from the territory it illegally occupies?

Under UN Resolution 37/43, however, the Palestinians, as victims of illegal military occupation, have an unquestionable right to eliminate the threat posed by Israel in their struggle for “liberation from colonial domination, apartheid and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle”.

Resolution 37/43 also condemns “the constant and deliberate violations of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, as well as the expansionist activities of Israel in the Middle East, which constitute an obstacle to the achievement of self-determination and independence by the Palestinian people and a threat to peace and stability in the region”.

The Palestinians’ right to armed struggle in self-defence is also confirmed in UN Resolution 3246, which calls for all States to recognise the right to self-determination and independence for all peoples subject to colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation and to offer them moral, material and other forms of assistance in their struggle to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.

Resolution 3246 reaffirms the legitimacy of the peoples’ struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle, and demands full respect for the basic human rights of all individuals detained or imprisoned as a result of their struggle for self-determination and independence, and strict respect for article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under which no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

There’s no sign that Cameron and the rest of the UK government understand any of this.

And what right does the UK have to prevent Palestinians choosing their own government? None. The correct way to “eliminate the threat posed by Hamas” is to require Israel to end its occupation.

International law trampled to suit Israeli plans for domination

It is ludicrous to keep repeating that Israel must abide by international humanitarian law. Israel has no intention of doing so, and everyone knows it. Israel wants to dominate the Holy Land and has made that abundantly clear. Western governments and Western Christendom seem paralysed. The presumption must be that Biden and Cameron (both self-proclaimed Zionists, as were most of their predecessors) are overly sympathetic towards Israel and happy to trample international law to ensure the success of the apartheid regime’s criminal enterprise.

Many in the UK question why our parliamentarians are so concerned about the 1,200 Israeli dead following Hamas’s breakout attack and the 200-odd hostages when they couldn’t care less about the 10,651 Palestinians (including 656 women and 2,270 children) slaughtered by Israel in the 23 years before 7 October. Or the 7,200 Palestinian hostages held in Israeli jails, including 88 women and 250 children. Over 1,200 are held under “administrative detention” without charge or trial and denied due process.

An authority on international law, Dr Ralph Wilde, has produced a legal opinion on the Israeli occupation which might be helpful in putting an end to Cameron’s & co’s claptrap.

He points out that:

  • There’s no valid basis in international law for the occupation and it is an unlawful use of force, an aggression, and a violation on the part of Israel against the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. And aggression is a crime on an individual level for senior Israeli leaders. “As a result, the occupation is existentially illegal and must end immediately.”
  • What’s more, an end to the occupation cannot be delayed by Israel’s failure to agree to the adoption of a peace agreement or by the unreadiness of the Palestinian people, by ‘facts on the ground’, or by waiting for the approval of the UN, the Quartet, the White House, the British Foreign Office or anybody else. Every day the occupation continues is a breach of international law.
  • Palestinian people are treated in international law as a collective entity with rights, notably the right of self-determination and the right to freely choose whether or not to enter into international agreements. Palestine is what’s called a Self-determination Unit. The territory it covers is everything that is ‘not Israel’, legally, and includes Al-Quds/Jerusalem in its entirety, the rest of the West Bank beyond East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
  • Israel’s recognition and UN membership did not include sovereignty over any part of Al-Quds/Jerusalem. Palestinians also enjoy the right of external self-determination (i.e. freedom from external domination) which has been universally accepted and affirmed by states and UN institutions including the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the International Court of Justice.
  • And Palestine is a state in the international law sense because (a) there’s a presumption in favour of statehood for people with a right of external self-determination; and (b) a large majority (138) of the world’s states collectively recognized Palestinian statehood when the UN General Assembly voted in 2012 to re-designate Palestine’s status from ‘non-member Entity’ to ‘non-member State’. This had the effect of establishing statehood.
  • External self-determination is a right to be free of any external domination, including occupation or other forms of non-sovereign territorial control which prevent the full exercise of that right. Such domination must end so that this right can be exercised.
  • The right operates and exists simply and exclusively by virtue of the Palestinian people being entitled to it. It is not something that depends on anyone else agreeing to it, such as Israel, the Quartet, the UN, other states, etc. It is a right; so there is no need for Palestinians to negotiate or compromise with Israelis as the price for ending their occupation.
  • Israel’s exercising control over the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, preventing the Palestinian people from full and effective self-governance, has for decades been a fundamental impediment to the realization of the right of self-determination which the Palestinian people are entitled to enjoy under international law. And there was no actual or imminent armed attack that justified the occupation as a means of self-defence prior to 7 October.
  • Furthermore, there is no right under international law to maintain the occupation pending a peace agreement, or for creating ‘facts on the ground’ that might give Israel advantages in relation to such an agreement, or as a means of coercing the Palestinian people into agreeing on a situation they would not accept otherwise.
  • Implanting settlers in the hope of eventually acquiring territory is a violation of occupation law by Israel and a war crime on the part of the individuals involved. And it is a violation of Israel’s legal obligation to respect the sovereignty of another state and a violation of Israel’s legal obligation to respect the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people; also a violation of Israel’s obligations in the international law on the use of force. Ending these violations involves immediate removal of the settlers and the settlements from occupied land and an immediate end to Israel’s exercise of control, including its use of military force, over those areas of the West Bank.

Advice to Messrs Sunak, Cameron and Docherty is surely to first get on the right side of international law – and human decency – and recognise Palestinian statehood without any more foot-dragging. Furthermore, to join with other states and tell Israel, firmly, that all cooperation, collaboration and favoured nation privileges are cancelled until the apartheid regime ends its illegal occupation, removes its squatters, lifts its siege, ceases interference with free movement and fulfils its obligations under the UN Charter and resolutions. And completes a probationary period demonstrating good behaviour before being welcomed back into the community of nations.

Otherwise, what is international law worth? Our political leaders must realise that the British public don’t want a so-called ally that’s bent on genocide and the wholesale destruction of another people’s homeland and heritage, and is as hateful, racist and disrespectful of human rights and norms as Israel has been for as long as most of us can remember.

Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can be read on the internet by visiting radiofreepalestine.org.uk. Read other articles by Stuart, or visit Stuart's website.