Hague, Schmague

Published at 15:55 on 30 January 2024

The title of this post is what an Israeli cabinet minister said in response to news of the recent International Court of Justice genocide ruling.

And the minister is correct: If, as Israel is, one is the best friend of a superpower, the Court is fundamentally meaningless. It has no means of enforcing its decisions, and courts without power to enforce their rulings might as well not exist. International law is for lesser nations (i.e. non-superpowers and best friends of same). Anyone with any doubt of this should research The Republic of Nicaragua vs. The United States of America (1986).

The key problem is, most of the world doesn’t really give a shit about Palestine. Oh, favourable noises might get made on that issue from time to time, but when it comes to anyone with any sort of power making a significant effort to actualize anything, it almost never happens. And before you say “Houthis,” please watch this.

Basically, unless China and Russia decide their toast is buttered on the side of weighing in hard on the side of Palestine (and so far they have not), the Palestinians don’t really have much grounds for hope anytime soon. Nothing motivates like self-interest, and if China and/or Russia would decide to exploit this conflict to undermine US authority, the USA might be motivated (by the desire to not lose further prestige) to act in more humanitarian interests. But since the precondition for the latter is absent, it is unlikely to happen. So the near term is bleak.

In the longer term, the bloodshed in Gaza is likely to exacerbate and continue the long decline in the State of Israel’s reputation that began with its decision to colonize lands occupied in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War. Pair that with the growing trend towards right-wing authoritarianism in Israel, and you have a long-term vulnerability.

Those who care about Palestine would be wise to continue pushing on those vulnerabilities. Israel has done much to tarnish its own reputation, and that tarnish should be pointed out at every opportunity. The recent ICJ ruling, and Israel’s contemptuous dismissal of it, is part of that tarnish. That, and only that, is the significance of the ruling.

I was, for much of the 1990’s, involved in activism on the subject of East Timor, which was then considered to be the canonical lost cause. Indonesia, a US client state, had occupied the former Portuguese territory in flagrant violation of international law in 1975, and had waged a genocidal war in an attempt to subdue its population into accepting Indonesian rule. Attempts to resolve the issue went nowhere because Indonesia was a US client state. But, over time, the small group I was involved with managed to point out how tarnished Indonesia was as a result of its atrocities in East Timor, and Indonesia’s reputation began slipping in Congress.

Then the whole house of cards suddenly collapsed. Indonesia experienced a sudden economic crisis that revealed just how thoroughly corrupt the authoritarian government there was. Suharto, Indonesia’s dictator, went cap in hand to his superpower benefactor, but thanks to reputation damage, a prompt bailout was not forthcoming. The economic crisis then provoked widespread popular unrest that drove Suharto from power. The new government agreed to allow East Timor to become independent if it wanted, in return for much-needed economic aid.

The latter was only possible because of slow, patient, seemingly futile work for years prior. Reputation is just touchy-feely stuff that doesn’t much matter… until, suddenly, it does.


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