State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher made the following statement regarding the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank. The United States submitted a written statement to the International Court expressing its continuing view that the referral is inappropriate and may impede efforts to achieve progress towards a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. The statement emphasized the Quartet-led roadmap as the agreed upon method for moving forward and it urged the Court to give due regard to the principle that its advisory opinion jurisdiction is not intended as a means of circumventing the right of states to determine whether to submit their disputes to judicial settlement.
12:40 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Ladies and gentlemen, if I can, I’d like to start with two statements: one on the International Court of Justice submission; and the other on the graduating class in Jordan of Iraqi policemen.
The news on the International Court of Justice is that the United States submitted today a written statement to the International Court of Justice in The Hague concerning the request by the General Assembly for an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the construction of the Israeli security barrier. Pursuant to the Court’s order, written statements were due no later than today. The Court will hold oral hearings on the matter on February 23rd.
The U.S. statement expresses the continuing U.S. view that the referral is inappropriate and may impede efforts to achieve progress towards a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. It emphasizes the Quartet-led roadmap as the agreed upon method for moving forward towards a negotiated settlement. And the statement urges the Court to give due regard to the principle that its advisory opinion jurisdiction is not intended as a means of circumventing the right of states to determine whether to submit their disputes to judicial settlement.
I have a slightly longer statement available for you that essentially makes the same points or tracks with the points that we made in our submission.
Questions about this?
QUESTION: The only people who are not opposed to this seem to be the Israelis themselves — I mean, the actual barrier that’s being put up. What exactly is wrong or inappropriate about submitting this to the ICJ, particularly when the General Assembly, that is, the world, has voted to do so?
MR. BOUCHER: There are two things, and I need to start by saying the United States itself has expressed views about the route of the security barrier and the issues of displacement involved in construction and the concern that it might, in fact, try to prejudice final status issues that need to be negotiated.
So the first objection we have to the Court trying to step in and make decisions on that is that the final — the issues, some of these issues involved, are, in fact, issues that need to be negotiated between the parties, that can only really be solved by negotiations between the parties.
And the second objection that we’ve had to the Court taking up this case is to say that there is a principle, there is a principal that advisory — that states should determine whether their disputes are subject to judicial settlement, and we don’t think that the advisory opinion process from the General Assembly should be allowed to circumvent that rule that states have a right to decide whether to submit their disputes to this Court.
QUESTION: Well, since the Palestinians aren’t a state, that effectively deprives them of any opportunity to bring matters before this tribunal.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, parties —
QUESTION: You said states.
MR. BOUCHER: I said states. In any case, I don’t know what the status of Palestinians is vis-à-vis the Court, but one party to a dispute can’t necessarily unilaterally establish jurisdiction for this court.
QUESTION: But it is often the case in civil proceedings in the United States that one party brings suit. The other one might not like that, might not want it to be taken up, but —
MR. BOUCHER: This is not a civil proceeding in the United States.
QUESTION: No, I understand that. But the principle is the same. One party can bring —
MR. BOUCHER: This is not a civil proceeding in the United States.
QUESTION: It’s my understanding, at least the United States has in the past rejected decisions handed down by the ICJ. I can think of —
MR. BOUCHER: We have not accepted their jurisdiction in some particular cases.
QUESTION: So Israel has the right not to accept it. So I don’t understand why you’re worried that another international body, after the General Assembly, would come down on one side or another about this.
MR. BOUCHER: For both of the reasons that I said about this —
QUESTION: Well, does — is it not your case that the barrier itself hinders the roadmap?
MR. BOUCHER: We have said that the route of the barrier is the primary concern that we have.
QUESTION: Okay. So, but the route of the barrier where it infringes over the ‘67 line, or where it plans to infringe over that line, is a problem for the roadmap, right?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: That’s your opinion. Okay. Well, I don’t understand why it is that another — someone other than —
MR. BOUCHER: There’s a difference between our having an opinion and many, many countries in the world having a strong opinion on this, versus saying that this is a dispute that can be resolved by an international court. And there’s a difference between saying that we have an opinion and others may have a strong opinion about this, and saying the General Assembly has a backdoor to get the Court to intervene in any disputes that it feels like.
QUESTION: Richard, if Israel is attempting to build this fence, perhaps impeding an agreement in the future, is that not a unilateral settlement of the conflict that is against international law? And if Israel isn’t going to stop because of the strong opinions of other countries, shouldn’t some kind of international body make a judgment that this is against international law?
MR. BOUCHER: The — but judgment of international bodies — I mean, the General Assembly can pass a resolution if it wants to express its own opinion, so can other international bodies. There’s a difference between that and making it a judicial matter.
QUESTION: So, in principle, you’re opposed to the idea of the General Assembly referring anything to the Court?
MR. BOUCHER: The General Assembly — the advisory opinion process that the General Assembly has, and that the Court has, this advisory opinion jurisdiction being used in a way that might not be consistent with the principle that advisory opinions — I’m sorry — that the advisory opinion jurisdiction might be used in a way that is not consistent with the principle that states have a right to determine whether to submit their disputes.
QUESTION: So for anything, then, not just this?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. There is a bigger principle. It’s not just this case. It’s the way this case got there, and some of the implications of the way it might be decided that we have raised in our submission because that has a general, a more general problem for us.
QUESTION: Well, then, in principle, wouldn’t you object to virtually any non-state referral to the ICJ?
MR. BOUCHER: The question is whether the — first of all, this is a different process. Not all cases get to the ICJ this way. But second of all, it’s the principle that needs to be respected is the right of states to determine whether to submit their disputes. So it’s conceivable that some international body may refer a dispute with the consent of the states involved or something like that.
QUESTION: Did you —
MR. BOUCHER: I’m not going to speculate on that.
QUESTION: Can you refresh my memory? Did you object to Charles Taylor appealing the jurisdiction of the UN Special Tribunal to the ICJ?
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t know.