BEIRUT: While international law could aid Palestinian leadership to contest U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent Jerusalem decision, attorneys and experts suggested Wednesday that it was unlikely such legislation would be used in an international court. “The Palestinian leadership has several opportunities at this moment to contest the legality of Trump’s decision,” Noura Erakat, human rights attorney and assistant professor at George Mason University, told The Daily Star at the “100 years after the Balfour Declaration and 70 years after the Partition Plan” conference, held at the American University of Beirut.
“They have a multitude of resolutions specifically on Jerusalem passed in the aftermath of Israel’s 1967 annexation that could be used. ... Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the Palestinian leadership will use any of that,” Erakat added.
The two-day international academic conference, co-hosted by the Issam Fares Institute and the Institute for Palestine Studies at AUB opened Wednesday morning before a packed auditorium.
Speaking alongside Erakat was Anis Fawzi Kassem, attorney and chairman of the Legal Aid Fund for the Defense of Palestinian Detainees.
Erakat opened the first panel on the role of international law in both potentially advancing and impeding Palestine’s path to national liberation. “At once, international law is a site of oppression as well as a site for resistance; ... the target of protest as well as a tool of protest; ... [and] the source of legitimacy and the legitimating veneer for violence,” she said in her introduction.
She continued to demonstrate the variability of international law, highlighting that one law “can have a different meaning depending on time, space and strategy.”
Drawing from her forthcoming book under the working title “Justice for Some: Law is Politics in the Question of Palestine,” Erakat outlined a brief history during which the Palestinian leadership failed to wield international law to its advantage. Where it failed, Israeli leadership succeeded, she said, drawing upon instances in which Israel has successfully employed international law to continue and justify its occupation of Palestine.
Speaking after Erakat, Kassem also raised the issue of double standards in how international law is sometimes used.
He drew upon the 1920 British mandate for Palestine, in which a “Jewish national home” was promised while preserving “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish Palestinians, as one such example.
While the colonial power did see to the establishment of the Jewish national home, Kassem highlighted the hypocrisy of Britain’s failure to follow through on aiding in the preparation of the political and economic future of Palestinians.
“We could prosecute Britain for the Balfour Declaration, but it would be a failure. ... But we could prosecute them for disregard of the mandate helping Palestinians,” Kassem said.
Although Kassem and Erakat tackled the issue of international law and the Palestinian plight from differing angles, both concluded that little has been done on the Palestinian side to properly use international law as an instrument for self-determination.
“It’s not a lack of law or opportunity but a lack of political will,” Erakat told The Daily Star.
“There has been a decision at least since 1993 to pursue a course of [putting] undue faith in the United States that it will deliver a Palestinian state in its capacity as a global superpower.”
Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is not enough to galvanize Palestinian authorities, she said.
Unfortunately, she added, the most recent opportunity to advance the Palestinian cause on the international stage has passed.
According to the attorney, the time following former U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to abstain on U.N. resolution 2334 before the election of Trump was that window.
Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University and scholar at the Institute for Palestine Studies, however, noted that perhaps the current situation may finally provide the grounds for change.
“Their whole strategy relied upon negotiations, which is no longer possible,” Khalidi told The Daily Star.
“They are much more in a corner than they have ever been because of what Trump has done. You’re on the verge of a leadership change, a possible reconciliation.
“So they may be forced to do something,” Khalidi added.
While he noted that change was not likely to come soon, he nonetheless voiced the possibility that this could perhaps be the beginning of a new movement.