Arab states, Turkey ask World Court to declare Israeli occupation illegal

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) -Arab states urged international judges on Monday to rule the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories illegal and Turkey described the occupation as “the real obstacle to peace” on the final day of hearings in a case examining its legal status.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has been hearing arguments from more than 50 states following a request by the U.N. General Assembly in 2022 to issue a non-binding opinion on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation.

On the sixth and last day of hearings, Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmet Yildiz told judges the occupation was the root cause of conflict in the region.

Yildiz also addressed the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas in Israel, which killed 1,200 people, and Israel’s military response that has since killed more than 29,000 Palestinians.

“The unfolding situation after October 7 proves once again that, without addressing the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there can be no peace in the region,” he said, describing the occupation of Palestinian territories as “the real obstacle to peace” and urging the judges to declare it illegal.

Israel, which is not taking part in the hearings, has said the court’s involvement could be harmful to achieving a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling the questions posed to the court prejudiced.

The Arab League’s secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit described the occupation as “an affront to international justice” in a statement read out in court by a representative.

The vast majority of states who have addressed the hearing at ICJ – also known as the World Court – asked judges to declare the occupation illegal.

A handful of states, including on Monday the small island state of Fiji, argued the ICJ should refuse to give any advisory opinion.

The United States urged the court last week to limit any advisory opinion on the occupation and not order the unconditional withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Palestinian territories.

On Friday the Biden administration said Israel’s expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank was inconsistent with international law, signalling a return to long-standing U.S. policy that had been reversed by the previous administration of Donald Trump.

The ICJ hearings closed on Monday and a date for a decision will be announced in due course, the court said. The 15-judge panel is expected to take roughly six months to issue their non-binding opinion on the occupation.

World powers have also pressed Palestinian factions to end their own divisions over their response to Israel’s occupation, the war in Gaza and what political system might follow it.

On Monday Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced he had resigned to pave the way for a political consensus on a political structure to govern Gaza after the conflict.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Andrew Heavens)