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Palestine’s Application the ICJ, neither Groundless nor Hopeless. A Reply to Marko Milanovic

Published on October 8, 2018        Author: 
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On Friday 30 September 2018, Palestine introduced an Application before the ICJ against the United States of America for violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR), on account of the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is yet another judicial episode of David vs Goliath, like the Military and Paramilitary Activities case (Nicaragua v. US) or the South China Seaarbitration (Philippines v. China) were. But this time the David seems even more fragile, since the Goliath disputes the statehood of Palestine and consequently the many rights attached to it – among them, recognition and respect of sovereign equality in the first place.

The seisin of the ICJ has taken international lawyers aback: the reactions went from enthusiastic excitement to sheer incredulity or scepticism. This is not surprising: the case, whether it is decided on the merits or not, has the potential of becoming one of the great cases of international law, those which will be studied for decades by international law students, which will give guidance on highly debated issues, like statehood and erga omnes obligations. It is not every day that the Court is offered such an occasion.

Now, of course, it is certain that the US will challenge the Court’s jurisdiction. The only question is whether they will formally introduce preliminary objections or opt for non-appearance (like China or Russia have lately done). Non-appearance having rarely served the cause of the recalcitrant State, the US would be well advised not to follow that path; all the more if their case on jurisdiction is as strong as Marko Milanovic considers it to be in his post of 30 Sept. 2018. Non-appearance is generally an epidermal reaction by a super-power to legal challenges against its policy. The US’ infuriated announcement of withdrawal from the Optional Protocol to the VCDR, made on 3 Oct 2018, denotes this attitude. But it has no effect on Palestinian proceedings, which were introduced before the denunciation could become effective. 

One may wonder instead why the United States have not made this move earlier. After all, Palestine did warn them, through a verbal note of 4 July 2018, of the dispute on the VCDR. And on the same day, Palestine deposited with the Secretary General a declaration recognizing the jurisdiction of the Court under the Optional Protocol (both texts are available as annexes to Palestine’s Application). Maybe no one in Washington considered that Palestine’s notifications should be taken seriously. Be that as it may, the Application was made on time and the consensual basis of jurisdiction will be difficult to challenge. Read the rest of this entry…