World Court says it has received UN request for opinion on Israel occupation

The International Court of Justice on Friday confirmed it had officially received a request from the United Nations General Assembly to give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The ICJ is expected to draw up a list of states and organisations that will be able to file written statements, but the press release gave no further information about a timeline for that process. In previous advisory opinions the court also scheduled hearings but it is likely to take at least several months before they can be scheduled.

The Hague-based ICJ, also known as the World Court, is the top UN court dealing with disputes between states. Its rulings are binding, though the ICJ has no power to enforce them.

In a move condemned by Israel and welcome by Palestinians, the General Assembly asked the ICJ last month to give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation … including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem [Al-Quds], and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures.”

The UN resolution also asks the ICJ to advise on how those policies and practices “affect the legal status of the occupation” and what legal consequences arise for all countries and the United Nations from this status.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the request for a World Court opinion a “despicable decision”.

The ICJ last weighed in on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in 2004, when it ruled that an Israeli separation barrier was illegal. In the same ruling the ICJ judges said that Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory “have been established in breach of international law”.

Israel rejected that ruling, accusing the court of being politically motivated.