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Palestine and the UN’s ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine

Author: Abdelwahab El-Affendi

Affiliation:  Doha Institute for Graduate Studies

Organization/Publisher: Aljazeera

Date/Place: June 1, 2021/Doha, Qatar

Type of Literature: Opinion Article

Word Count: 1693


Keywords: Palestine, UN Charter, ICISS report, R2P doctrine


The recent atrocities in Palestine highlight the multiple absurdities in the decades-long political deadlock in the Middle East, which is unique in the amount and degree of suffering imposed on the Palestinians. Persuasive foreign actors have contributed to the culprits of atrocities but pay little attention to the rising numbers of victims, except when they turn up as refugees at their doorsteps. They do not care when Palestinians and Syrians are thrown out of their homes, bombed into oblivion, or packed into a no-man’s land. But they rise up in unison when the perpetrators are threatened. The United Nations was set up in 1945, its guiding principle had been to contain war and violence in general and mass atrocities in particular. The UN Charter provides for peacekeeping and armed intervention against aggressors, principles that were implemented, significantly, first in Palestine a couple of weeks after the establishment of Israel, and later on the Korean Peninsula, in Lebanon, Cyprus, etc.  The post-Cold War proliferation of atrocities and acts of genocide provoked a lot of clamoring for active intervention to stop such mass violence. With the ICISS report (International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty), the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine was formally adopted by the UN General Assembly at the 2005 World Summit, advocating for  Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All, and which affirmed the responsibility of the wider international community for taking “timely and decisive” intervention. The unanimous adoption meant that Israel also endorsed it, as did many Arab countries, like Sudan, which later became a main target of the doctrine. The application of the doctrine appears to be willfully selective, as it has never been applied to the powerful states. However, in spite of Arab and African solidarity with Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, Arab and African countries have endorsed the Palestinian Authority’s decision to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in April 2015. The ICC’s affirmation (issued in February this year) that crimes in Palestine fall under its jurisdiction was also widely welcomed. During the assault on Gaza in May, ICC prosecutors announced that they would be monitoring the conflict for possible war crime charges. It is a supreme irony that the most ardent proponents of the responsibility to protect and the ICC, in particular Western democracies, have been very hostile to applying the doctrine in Palestine. Israel is the first state that had been created by a UN resolution. Its refusal to adhere to the terms of that resolution undermines its own legitimacy. This is aside, of course, from the specific responsibility of major international actors for more substantive moral, political, financial and military complicity in these crimes. Even from the Israeli perspective, applying R2P to Palestine should be desirable. The whole rationale for a Jewish state is to offer a refuge for a category of people who had suffered persecution and enmity. It would be incongruous and morally perverse if the state—that is supposed to protect against atrocities—itself indulges in an abundance of atrocities. In any case, a state does not exist or function in a void.

By: Maryam Khan, CIGA Research Associate 



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