American Delusions at The International Court of Justice

The U.S. "Rules-Based International Order" continues to eat international law alive. PLUS: Come get your comics signed by me and Evan Narcisse!

American Delusions at The International Court of Justice
Luther D. Bradley, 1914.

Edited by Sam Thielman

FOR MORE THAN FIFTY YEARS, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, seized when Israel won the 1967 Six-Day War, has been illegal under international law. That is the meaning of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 from November 1967, and reaffirmed in 1973's Resolution 338. (I will spare everyone the interminable legal controversy over whether "territories occupied" means "all territories occupied.") Both of these resolutions are older than I am, and I am old. More importantly, generations of Palestinians have been born, grown old, and died under a resolution that ostensibly should have helped free them and never did. 

In December 2022, long before the current crisis, the U.N. General Assembly voted for the International Court of Justice to deliver an advisory opinion outlining legal consequences for the ongoing occupation. Its material consequences would be unclear, but a reiteration that the occupation is illegal would continue to delegitimize it. This week that hearing got underway. (To be clear, it's unrelated to the ICJ genocide proceedings.) And it's putting on display the difference between international law and the U.S.' Rules-Based International Order.

The State Department's acting legal adviser, Richard Visek, on Wednesday argued that the ICJ "should not find that Israel is legally obligated to immediately and unconditionally withdraw from occupied territory." Visek's contention is that "negotiations are the path to a lasting peace" – that is, rather than a court ordering the reversal of an illegal occupation. 

Visek warned that an ICJ ruling effectively mandating an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem risks "undermining the maintenance of peace and security." The framework of negotiating land for peace, as we called it when I was young, is "the only basis to achieve a lasting peace and the framework for ongoing U.S. efforts," he said. 

I'm not going to belabor the point here. There are no negotiations. We are nearly 25 years away from the failure of the Oslo Accords, and more than 15 from the Olmert peace plan. "Land for Peace" no longer exists, except in the imaginations of western diplomats whom the Israeli right gleefully calls delusional. And here they have a point. For Visek and so many other U.S. diplomats, Oslo isn't dead, it's just on a very extended pause. As for an ICJ ruling "undermining the maintenance of peace and security," what peace and security? 

In the abstract, yes, negotiations are the path to a lasting peace. But the whole reason this hearing is happening is because the Israelis with whom the Palestinians must deal are rejecting negotiations to end the occupation. I don't know how many times over the past five months alone the Israeli government has made clear it rejects the two-state solution that Biden insists is a viable option. 

It's not the only contradiction the U.S. is left in a position of having to paper over. "The U.S. is by no means suggesting there is no role for the court or that it should not rule on violations of international law," Visek said, "but in exercising its advisory role, it must take into consideration the extent to which the UN Security Council has already taken action to address the matter, including in its Resolution 2720 in December that reiterated the need for a two-state solution." This is a lot of words to say that the U.S. is indeed suggesting there is no role for the court and that it should not rule on this violation of international law. The reason why Visek is stuck saying that is because Israel is a U.S. client, and that entitles Israel to the cover of the Rules-Based International Order, which the U.S. prefers to international law. 

This is a banner week for the clash between international law and the Rules-Based International Order. On Tuesday at the United Nations, the Biden administration vetoed a third ceasefire resolution, this time on the pretext that it's working on a ceasefire resolution of its own—this one with a weaksauce call for "a temporary ceasefire as soon as practicable," which Benjamin "Total Victory" Netanyahu will schedule for the Wednesday after Never. Combined with today's performance at the ICJ, the message the U.S. is sending is that international law is useless against U.S.-backed military power. 

But it's not only international law that emerges damaged. In a classic negative-sum outcome, the Rules-Based International Order that the U.S. has so often promoted is exposed as farcical, meant to constrain only U.S. enemies and not U.S. allies. Mustafa Akyol summed up this perspective in Foreign Policy on Tuesday

All of this is rapidly discrediting the West—and its liberal narratives—in the eyes of the rest. For if human rights are not valid for all humans, and if freedom of speech is not valid for all voices, those principles don’t mean much. The world instead seems to run on the cynical principle defined by Carl Schmitt, the “crown jurist” of Germany’s Third Reich: Sovereign powers, at their will, can define the exceptions to their rules.

I encourage you to read al-Jazeera's liveblog of the ICJ hearing, as lots of countries are providing their perspectives on the illegality of the Israeli occupation—which, again, is over 50 years old—and what the ICJ ought to do about it. 

I STRONGLY DISLIKED the New York Times' first write-thru of Visek's presentation at the ICJ. Ask yourself if someone who reads this paragraph will come away informed or misinformed:

The court, which normally hears staid disputes among nations, has lately become a venue for countries to oppose Israel. Last month, South Africa argued at the court that Israel was committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza — a charge Israel strongly rejected. The judges have not ruled on that claim, but issued an interim order for Israel to take steps to prevent genocide in Gaza.

A whole lot of editorial choices are embedded within that ostensibly objective framing. The point of the hearing is not to "oppose Israel" but to save Palestine. And the ICJ's interim order validated the "charge Israel strongly rejected." I don't like doing media criticism, but this is egregious. 

DON BOLDUC, the former U.S. Special Operations Command-Africa commander turned New Hampshire GOP Senate candidate, is a cop now, per the Concord Monitor. Get ready for operational intensification in the Lower Merrimack River Valley. 

WAY BACK IN 2022, FOREVER WARS said it was important to keep an eye on Elon Musk's growing relationship with the Pentagon. The Wall Street Journal reports that Musk's SpaceX signed "a $1.8 billion classified contract with the U.S. government in 2021" indicative of the "growing interdependence between SpaceX—a dominant force in the space industry—and the national-security establishment." 

SAVE THE DATE! On Friday, March 8, me and my WALLER VS. WILDSTORM co-writer and friend Evan Narcisse will be signing at Brooklyn's finest, Bulletproof Comics on Nostrand Avenue! We don't have the time fully worked out yet but I figure it'll be after work. Not only can you get your currently-available-for-purchase WVW hardcover edition signed, but you should get Evan to sign your copies of Rise of The Black Panther, Batman: Gotham Knights–Gilded City, the Milestone 30th Anniversary special and all his other modern comics instant-classics. Come hang, it'll be fun. 

Meanwhile, if you don't have single issues of WVW and you want a four-issue set signed by me, they're going fast at Bulletproof Comics! No one is prouder of WVW than her older sibling, REIGN OF TERROR: HOW THE 9/11 ERA DESTABILIZED AMERICA AND PRODUCED TRUMP, which is available now in hardcover, softcover, audiobook and Kindle edition. And on the way is a new addition to the family: THE TORTURE AND DELIVERANCE OF MAJID KHAN

FINALLY THIS WEEK, Sam did hard work renovating FOREVER WARS' website. It looks great and I just thought we should acknowledge that before signing off. [More to come!—Sam.]