Like you, we are horrified by the war against Ukraine and pleased to see concerted international support for Ukrainians, even if this could go further.
From a Palestinian point of view the effect of the war has been, first of all, to overshadow their conflict with Israel – especially in the media – but in the longer term to sharpen public awareness of the inconsistency in the way that international law is sometimes applied, sometimes ignored.
If we apply international law
Even if people are not yet thinking serious about it, they will soon need to find an answer to the question: if we apply international law to Russia, why not to Israel?
The Government’s only answer so far has been to accuse anybody asking the question of implicitly supporting Putin by making odious comparisons between the war in Ukraine and the conflict in the Middle East.
But to suggest that international law should be enforced in all cases is not to make a comparison or to draw parallels between one conflict and another. It is simply to argue for consistency in the application of international law.
It is true that breaches of the law can be more or less flagrant, but if they already deserve the description “flagrant”, then they certainly deserve the application of effective actions by the international community. And “flagrant violations of international law” were the very words used to describe settlements in UNSC 2334, the motion that was passed without opposition in the UN Security Council and was drafted in large part by the UK delegation to the United Nations.
Both the war in Ukraine and the UK’s own partygate scandal have underscored this simple truth. The law is the law. It has to be enforced impartially on both friend and foe. To fail to enforce it is to undermine the whole structure of international law – the only defence that most countries have against being invaded, occupied or subjugated by their neighbours.
Settlements are illegal
Unfortunately it is possible to say you ‘support’ international law without actually doing anything to support it. The UK government says that settlements are illegal. It says it ‘does not encourage’ and ‘does not support’ trade with illegal settlements. But it makes no attempt to stop UK companies trading with them. It’s like having a law against burglary but no law against receiving stolen goods.
In the past we have argued the Palestinian case on several grounds – self-determination, nationhood, justice, fairness. The need to comply with international law has been an important contributory argument. The Balfour Project has moved international law to centre-stage in their recent work. It’s time now for all of us to reframe the Palestinian cause as a sub-section of the case for international law.
Watch our interview with Military Court Watch, which argues the upholding of the law is essential for everyone.
An integrity test
To say it is only a part of a wider campaign is not to diminish it, because Palestine is not just an example of a country that is suffering as a result of breaches of international law, but also an integrity test for the world. If we are serious about Ukraine, we must also be serious about Palestine. To support one without the other is to abandon any claim to principle, to universal values or to consistency.