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The Sofia City Court which is notorious for its corruption is currently dealing with its latest scandal which involves the citizenship of the court’s President Alexey Trifonov. There are rising concerns that he is not a Bulgarian citizen – holding Bulgarian citizenship, however, is a requirement to serve as a magistrate in Bulgaria. The answer to a question, which appears to be simple at first glance – what is judge Trifonov’s citizenship? ­– requires the study of USSR and Bulgarian citizenship law applicable in 1972, including a Bulgaria-USSR Convention on Citizenship ratified in 1966. The issue has already reached Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court and illustrates the deplorable state of Bulgaria’s rule of law.

Judge Trifonov was elected as the President of the Sofia City Court by the judicial college of Bulgaria’s Supreme Judicial Council in November 2018 and entered office in February 2019. It is essential to clarify for the Western reader that Sofia City Court is one of the most important Bulgarian district courts by virtue of its jurisdiction. It has exclusive competence to register political parties on Bulgaria’s territory and to examine claims for recognition of foreign judgments. Since Sofia is the capital of the political and business life of the country, this court examines high-profile cases and large claims. It also authorizes surveillance and wiretapping by Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office.

What’s in a citizenship?

The circumstances surrounding Alexey Trifonov’s election and appointment as President of Sofia City Court by the Supreme Judicial Council may already attract the attention of scholars interested in the rule of law. On the one hand, all Vice-Presidents of the Sofia City Court resigned in protest after Trifonov entered office. On the other hand, Trifonov’s competitor Evgeni Georgiev who was not elected is contesting the election procedure before Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court. He argues the Supreme Judicial Council ignored the will of the majority of judges at Sofia City Court, thus violating the principle of judicial self-governance, and he submits that two members of the judicial college were in a conflict of interest which they did not declare.

Prior to the vote by the judicial college of the Supreme Judicial Council, the general assembly of the Sofia City Court carried out an internal election to nominate their candidate for court president pursuant to Article 85(3) of the Law on the Judiciary. The Law on the Judiciary was amended in 2016 to allegedly promote internal court independence by allowing the general assembly of a court to take decisions concerning the functioning of the court – for instance, nominate a candidate for court president, accept internal rules, develop joint legal opinions, etc. At this election, Georgiev received 56 votes while Trifonov received 25 votes. Subsequently, however, 9 members of the judicial college of the Supreme Judicial Council voted for Trifonov while 4 supported Georgiev, which led to Trifonov’s appointment and Georgiev’s appeal.

Yet, investigative journalist Valia Ahchieva, who has a long record of exposing corruption, was more troubled by something else – Trifonov’s birthplace, as stated on his CV, is Kursk (then USSR, current Russian Federation). She wondered when and how Trifonov acquired Bulgarian citizenship. This is essential in light of Article 162 of the Law on the Judiciary, which stipulates the basic criteria one should meet to serve as a judge, prosecutor or investigator in Bulgaria. Its chapeau explicitly states that these magistrates should have Bulgarian citizenship only, which makes the requirement for Bulgarian citizenship as well as the lack of dual citizenship the most important prerequisites for becoming part of Bulgaria’s magistracy.

Born in the USSR: what’s your citizenship?

Mrs. Ahchieva’s investigation and subsequent commentary were published on EUelectionsBulgaria.com. Below I focus on the constitutional question which emerges based on Mrs. Ahchieva’s fact-finding and the relevant law.

Mrs. Ahchieva established that judge Alexey Trifonov was born in 1972, in Kursk (then USSR, current Russian Federation) in a mixed marriage – his father had Bulgarian citizenship and his mother had Soviet citizenship. However, he was issued a Bulgarian birth certificate only on 13 October 1988, when he was 16, and he was included in the Register of Bulgarian Citizens on the following day based on this certificate. Was he entitled to Bulgarian citizenship and a Bulgarian birth certificate?

For the sake of precision, it should be noted that Trifonov should have been issued a birth certificate within 1 month of his birth in Kursk pursuant to the applicable vital records law in the USSR at the time.

When Trifonov was born, Bulgaria’s Constitution of 1971 was in force. Its Article 34 specifies: “Bulgarian citizenship is acquired and lost according to the procedure established by the law”. One finds the applicable procedure in the Law on Bulgarian Citizenship (LBC) of 1968 and the Bulgaria-USSR Convention on Citizenship, which was ratified in 1966.

Article 6 of the LBC of 1968 stipulates the concrete circumstances in which one is Bulgarian by birth. One of the hypotheses envisaged by Article 6, as it was in force at the time Trifonov was born, is the following:

the person is born abroad and one of their parents is a Bulgarian citizen unless the person is born in the country of their foreign parent and the national law of this parent recognizes them as their citizen (emphasis mine).

It should be mentioned that in 1986, Article 6 of the LBC of 1968 was amended to grant Bulgarian citizenship automatically at birth to foreign-born children with one Bulgarian parent. However, this amendment entered in force 14 years after Trifonov’s birth, so it does not apply to him.

Was Trifonov recognized as a USSR citizen by USSR citizenship law at the time he was born? The USSR enacted a comprehensive Law on USSR Citizenship comparable to the Bulgarian LBC only in 1978. Pursuant to Article 12 (1), in case one parent is a USSR citizen and the child is born on USSR territory, the child is a USSR citizen by birth. The 1978 law replaced an underdeveloped law from 1938, which was silent on the acquisition of citizenship in cases similar to Trifonov’s. However, scholars and experts concur that prior to 1978, there were clear rules about the attribution of citizenship in many cases. In his detailed monograph The Citizenship Law of the USSR (Springer 1983), George Ginsburgs cites different sources, including a Collective Volume on Soviet Constitutional Law from 1967 approved by the Ministry of Higher and Special Education of the USSR, which was used in the law curriculum: “If the parents have different citizenship, one of them possesses the citizenship of the USSR and the other holds a foreign citizenship, provided at least one of the parents at the moment of birth of the child resides on the territory of the USSR, the child is counted as a Soviet citizen” (pp. 197-198).

In turn, the preamble of the aforementioned Bulgaria-USSR Convention on Citizenship, which entered in force in 1967, explicitly states the contracting parties have signed the treaty led by their intent to “prevent dual citizenship”. Article 1(1) of the Convention specifies:

Parents one of whom is a citizen of one of the contracting parties and the other one – a citizen of the other contracting party, may mutually agree to choose the citizenship of one of the contracting parties for their child…

According to Article 1(2), they should submit such a request within 1 year of birth before the competent authorities. Article 2(1) stipulates: “If the parents of a child do not submit a request with which they choose a citizenship pursuant to Article 1 of the Convention, the child is considered a citizen of the contracting party on whose territory it was born” (emphasis mine).

In other words, it seems Trifonov was a Soviet citizen by birth both according to USSR and Bulgarian national citizenship law. He could be entitled to Bulgarian citizenship by birth only if his parents submitted a request compliant with the requirements of the Bulgaria-USSR Convention on Citizenship. In addition, he was not entitled to dual citizenship.

Citizenship riddles for teens

Mrs. Ahchieva struggled with Bulgaria’s Ilinden municipality for a long time because they refused to provide information about the grounds on which Trifonov’s Bulgarian birth certificate was issued in 1988. However, judge Evgeni Georgiev seized the opportunity to raise the question of Trifonov’s citizenship before the Supreme Administrative Court as part of the proceedings in which he contests judge Trifonov’s appointment. After the court obliged them, the municipality finally provided an answer – Trifonov’s Bulgarian birth certificate of 1988 was issued without supporting documents.

As explained above, judge Trifonov could have Bulgarian citizenship by birth only if his parents had submitted a request for this within 1 year of his birth. If that was the case, however, one may wonder why his birth certificate was issued when he was 16 and without documents evidencing directly or indirectly that his parents submitted such a request. Considering this is his first Bulgarian birth certificate, one may ponder what documents Trifonov used to enroll at school in the USSR and Bulgaria, to access healthcare or to travel between the USSR and Bulgaria – one may doubt if they were Bulgarian because he was not even registered as a Bulgarian citizen prior to 1988. If Trifonov travelled as a USSR citizen, that would be further proof he is not a Bulgarian citizen by birth pursuant to the Bulgaria-USSR Convention on Citizenship. Alternatively, pursuant to Article 3(1) of the Rules on Application of Bulgaria’s Law on International Passports of 1973, children below 16 could be entered in the international passport of their parent – in this case, Trifonov’s father. It is doubtful if this could be done if the child was not a Bulgarian citizen and there was no proof it was its father’s son – both are usually proven with a Bulgarian birth certificate.

In her commentary, Mrs. Ahchieva suggests Trifonov could have applied for naturalization “on the grounds of having one parent [sic] Bulgarian citizen”, but this is imprecise. In fact, he could have benefitted from a number of pathways. Article 14 of the LBC of 1968 allows a child between 14 and 18 years old, who was born in a mixed marriage (Trifonov’s case in 1988), to be naturalized if their foreign parent is naturalized and if they agree to naturalization. Article 15 of the LBC of 1968 also allows children below 18 years old to apply for naturalization if they have one Bulgarian parent, but both parents should express their consent in writing. The LBC of 1999, which replaced the LBC of 1968, also provides various pathways for naturalization (Article 12 and subsequent). In other words, Trifonov had many opportunities to acquire Bulgarian citizenship through naturalization after he moved to Bulgaria from the USSR.

Overall, however, to be naturalized, one should apply before the competent authorities, which means there should be a record of such application. At this stage, Mrs. Ahchieva’s inquiry before institutions shows there is no indication that Trifonov has been naturalized. This also seems obvious from the mere fact that he has a Bulgarian birth certificate – had he been naturalized, he would not have been issued a Bulgarian birth certificate to begin with.

As a point of contrast, Sergei Stanishev, President of the Party of European Socialists, was also born in the USSR to a Bulgarian father and a mother with USSR citizenship. He acquired Bulgarian citizenship in 1996. It is publicly known he applied for Bulgarian citizenship and renounced the Russian one because Article 65(1) of Bulgaria’s Constitution of 1991 forbids dual citizens from serving as Members of Parliament. It should be noted that pursuant to Chapter 2 of the Law of 28 November 1991, N1948-I on Citizenship of the Russian Federation, USSR citizenship was automatically converted to Russian citizenship under certain conditions. This law seems to indicate that Trifonov may be a citizen of the Russian Federation if his parents did not submit a request for Bulgarian citizenship pursuant to the Bulgaria-USSR Convention and/or he has not renounced the USSR/Russian Federation citizenship at some point.

It is not just about citizenship

How and why Trifonov’s Bulgarian birth certificate was issued seems to be a golden question not only because of his appointment as President of the Sofia City Court, but because without Bulgarian citizenship obtained in compliance with the law, Trifonov should not have become a magistrate in Bulgaria. Beyond the individual case, the drama with his citizenship provides one more illustration of the lack of rule of law in Bulgaria.

The Supreme Judicial Council did not verify Trifonov’s citizenship even though this seems to be the basic prerequisite for the appointment of magistrates. Moreover, when the question of Trifonov’s citizenship was raised before the Supreme Administrative Court as part of the proceedings in which judge Georgiev is contesting the procedure for judge Trifonov’s appointment, the representative of the Supreme Judicial Council asked the court not to examine this issue. In his view, the Supreme Judicial Council was not obliged to verify the candidates’ citizenship by law. Fortunately, the Supreme Administrative Court did not follow this argument, so it is expected that it will examine the question at its next sitting in November 2019. Yet, if indeed the Supreme Judicial Council is not obliged to verify the citizenship of magistrates, then which institution is, considering the Supreme Judicial Council is the body responsible for the appointment and promotion of magistrates? As stated above, Bulgarian law does not allow magistrates to have dual citizenship either, so even if they have a Bulgarian passport and a Bulgarian national identification number which is assigned at birth if one is Bulgarian by birth, there should be continuous checks for dual citizenship. In this case, if it was not for Mrs. Ahchieva’s watchful eye, this constitutional question would not have emerged.

In addition, having in mind that all facts put forward by journalist Valia Ahchieva are easily verifiable, it is surprising that Bulgarian institutions are silent on the matter. Why should they wait for the Supreme Administrative Court to examine judge Georgiev’s appeal? Is judge Georgiev the only person who is affected by the surfacing constitutional paradox surrounding judge Trifonov’s citizenship? If judge Trifonov does not manage to prove he acquired Bulgarian citizenship according to the applicable law, it will mean he has obtained the birth certificate in violation of Bulgarian citizenship law and the Constitution. Judge Trifonov should provide convincing evidence he was not a Russian citizen while serving as a magistrate too. If he fails at either, this will imply he has been serving as a magistrate in violation of the requirements to become a magistrate for decades.

“To err is human, but to persist is diabolical” (Seneca)

Sofia City Court is notorious for its corruption and its scandals. In 2015, Bulgaria was shaken by Yaneva Gate – a series of wiretapped conversations between the then President of the Sofia City Court Vladimira Yaneva and another judge, which were published on the website of the Bulgarian partner of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project Bivol. The two judges and a third party discussed at length how they receive political orders by Prime Minister Borissov, Member of Parliament Peevski, and General Prosecutor Tsatsarov, how they sign authorizations for surveillance and wiretapping without reading the case materials, etc. Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office refused to investigate the allegations brought up in the tapes. Moreover, Kaloyan Topalov, the President of the Sofia City Court after Yaneva, resigned in 2017 under enigmatic circumstances and has refrained from public statements since then – media reported he was subjected to political pressure. Judge Trifonov, in fact, is the first court president after a lacuna.

The appointment of a new court president was the perfect occasion to at least imitate a fresh start, but it seems we are witnessing more of the same. The silence of Bulgaria’s institutions and their failure to address citizens’ queries and concerns on the matter are quite revealing – sometimes how you react to a public controversy is more eye-opening than the controversy itself. Bulgarian institutions have swept many controversies under the rug in the past.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Ahchieva claims that judge Trifonov told her in writing via the court’s press center that he was Bulgarian because under the Constitution, everyone who has at least one Bulgarian parent is Bulgarian by birth. Indeed, this is what Article 25(1) of Bulgaria’s Constitution adopted in 1991 says. However, this was neither the applicable law at the time judge Trifonov was born nor the applicable law at the time he was issued a Bulgarian birth certificate and included in the Register of Bulgarian Citizens.

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We are grateful to Verfassungblog for dedicating a symposium to The ABC of the OPT; to Anne Peters and Alexandra Kemmerer for their generosity of mind, indeed the contextual mindfulness in which they held a launching event for the book in Berlin (sponsored by both the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law, International Law‘s Berlin Office and Recht im Kontext (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) and wrote the introduction to this symposium; and to the contributors – Yael Berda, Michael Lynk, Nadija Samour, and Yuval Shany – for their thoughtful and munificent comments. Interwoven across the contributions to this symposium are two central themes: first, the use of conceptual frameworks as critical tools, and second, international law’s relationship with state violence. In what follows, we will reflect on the contributors’ comments regarding each of these themes.

1. Conceptual frameworks as critical tools

In their contributions to the symposium, Yael Berda and Nadija Samour focus on two concepts crucial for critiquing the Israeli control regime: “colonialism” (specifically “settler colonialism”) and “apartheid.” Regarding the former concept, Berda highlights the book’s relevance for understanding Israel’s colonial dimensions. As she puts it, by “fleshing out the concepts, doctrines and toolkits” of the Israeli control regime, The ABC of the OPT exposes how “the colonial and imperial phantoms that have created international law … are used today … against the Palestinian population.” While Berda focuses on two entries – Military Courts and Nomos – her analysis could be applied to the entire book, and some of her observations are developed further in other entries. Moreover, the entry Violence links Berda’s own work on “phantom sovereignty,” on which her review here builds, to the issue of law’s invisibility.

Adding to this, Samour notes the discussion, in the entry Jewish Settlements, of settler colonialism. In addition, she praises the focus of the entry Outside/Inside on connections and parallels between Israel’s control over the West Bank and Gaza and pre-1967 laws and policies: Ottoman and British Mandate legal legacies (pre-1948), Israel’s military rule over Palestinian citizens (1948-1966), the first Israeli occupation of Gaza (1956-1957), and Israel’s devising of legal infrastructure for occupying the West Bank (the early 1960s).

Yet, when it comes to the concept “apartheid,” Samour levels criticism at The ABC of the OPT. While acknowledging the book’s discussion of apartheid, she censures it for not developing a fully-fledged critique based on this concept. “I wonder,” she writes, “why the suggested approach is incapable of integrating ‘apartheid’ or ‘annexation’ as legal terms and as epistemological concepts of systematized characterization of what is going on in Palestine.”

Samour’s remarks provide a welcome opportunity to clarify three interrelated aspects of The ABC of the OPT. The first concerns the importance of the concepts “apartheid” and “settler colonialism” for understanding and responding to Israel’s control over Palestinian lives and territories. Not only do we fully agree with this argument, but we have articulated it ourselves elsewhere. Thus, already in 2005, Orna Ben-Naftali, in a 2005 article co-authored with Aeyal Gross and Keren Michaeli, argued that “the Israeli government’s actions … may well [violate] … the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. … [If] practiced as a widespread or systematic policy, apartheid is [also] criminalized in … the Rome Statute as a crime against humanity.” Similarly, Michael Sfard (2018) has observed: “A person would have to be unconscious not to pick up the whiff of apartheid everywhere there is a settlement. Israel has created … a regime [exhibiting] the very core of the legal definition of apartheid, which is an international crime.” As for settler colonialism, Viterbo (2017) has thrown light on the ways in which Israel’s “settler-colonial matrix [and its] … legal and political mechanisms … target … the collective subjugated sociopolitical [Palestinian] body … through a combination of segregation and fragmentation.” As Samour rightly notes, critiques similar to these can be found in a growing body of scholarship.

The ABC of the OPT, in comparison, was designed to achieve a very particular aim, clarified as follows in its opening pages: “to date, there has been no comprehensive, theoretically-informed, and empirically-based academic study of the role of various legal mechanisms, norms, and concepts in shaping, legitimizing, and responding to the Israeli control regime. This book seeks to fill this gap, while shedding new light on the subject.” In his contribution to this symposium, Yuval Shany seeks to convey this aim: “the format of a legal lexicon [is] dedicated to specific legal terms and rhetorical devices (or newspeak).” Berda’s contribution adds: “the use of the lexicon seeks to cut through the [Israeli regime’s] colonial grammar.”

Second, for Samour, “the lexicon largely remains within Israeli military-judicial thinking, with the editors employing the first letter A for ‘assigned residency’ … [as opposed to] ‘apartheid’ or ‘annexation’.” However, as explained in the Introduction, the book’s format “encompasses [not only] … the traditional function of a lexicon, as an instrument for the organization of knowledge,” but also, crucially, “the function of reflecting on this knowledge in a critical manner that challenges and redefines it.” An abundance of examples can be found throughout the book. The entry on Israel’s so-called Regularization Law, for instance, describes it as a “cynically but aptly named” statute that ends Israel’s “50-year-old masked ball.” The entry Combatants likewise censures Israel’s use of the term “unlawful combatants,” while the entry Future-Oriented Measures unmasks sanitized phrases such as “targeted killing” and “roof knocking.” Similarly, the entry Security Prisoners not only criticizes this Israeli legal category but also calls attention to the resistant Palestinian term: “political prisoners.” The list could go on. Contrary to Samour’s portrayal of discourse as fairly fixed, then, this book’s lexical mapping aims to deconstruct, problematize, and thus subvert Israel’s legal language.

Finally, by no means do the entry headings exhaust the concepts with which the book engages. Apartheid, in particular, is discussed in at least three entries (partly mentioned by Samour): Geneva Law, Proportionality, and Temporary/Indefinite. Annexation, the other concept invoked by Samour, is discussed at length in seven entries: Border/Barrier, Geneva Law, Nomos, Proportionality, Regularization, Temporary/Indefinite, and Zone. In this manner, as noted in the Introduction, the book’s “analytical and deconstructive moves take place at both the level of each separate entry and also … at the level of their interaction. Indeed, to a large degree, the meaning of each term or concept is to be found in its relation to the other terms and concepts… This conception of meaning as relational is inspired in part by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ‘family resemblance’ theory, and in part by Derrida’s writing on ‘différance.’”

2. International law’s relationship with state violence

As noted in its opening pages, The ABC of the OPT “provides insights that are relevant to other situations elsewhere in the world, particularly with regard to … the law’s role in relation to state violence, and justice.” The contributions by Michael Lynk and Yuval Shany provide an apt opportunity to contemplate on the ways in which these issues are addressed in and beyond our book.

Lynk, in particular, is an ardent champion of international law: “perhaps the most invaluable asset on the side of those who believe in a compassionate peace in the Middle East is international law, and the rights-based approach towards justice, equality and peace that it represents. I say this because, at its highest and most noble, international law represents impartiality and universal values.” In the Introduction to our book, we call views such as Lynk’s “critiquing before the law.” This line of critique, we explain in the Introduction, “tells international law’s story of its own awesome grandeur … Objective rather than subjective, international legal norms are defined by … [their] impartiality.” Some entries in the book share this view with Lynk. The entry Deportations, for instance, describes customary international law as “reflecting … an ethos of universally held values.”

Other entries, however, offer what we call “critique against the law,” which, “rather than regarding international law (and law generally) as its normative basis, treats it as inherently violent” (p. 19). This anti-legalistic critique is most extensively developed in two entries – Lawfare and Violence – the latter of which calls into question the common “equation of violence with illegality” and adds: “part of law’s function is to deny its own violence. … [Law is] a mode of violence endowed with elevated social legitimacy, a violence that simultaneously denies and affirms physical and symbolic violence.” This casts doubt on whether international law truly is, as Lynk portrays it to be, and whether it deserves such praise.

Treading along similar lines to Lynk’s, Shany’s contribution exhibits what we describe, in our Introduction, as another feature of “critiquing before the law”: a tendency to “treat … international legal norms … as a formally ordered, rational, and hierarchical system of known rules and procedures … as something relatively fixed, if not in practice then in principle.” This is apparent when Shany characterizes Israel’s “application of the laws of belligerent occupation” as “distorted” and as “undercut[ting] … [their] underlying principles.” Similar language appears, for example, in the entry House Demolitions, which laments the way in which Israel “undercuts the rule of law.”

Yet, from a “critique against the law” perspective, such formalist-legalist language might wrongly exonerate international law – whose so-called “underlying principles” Shany depicts as standing in contrast to Israel’s “distorted application” of it. “It is… due to… law’s malleability to diverse (and often competing) interpretations,” we note in the Introduction, “that law provides a framework… for continuing war and state violence by other means.” For Shany, this “elasticity” is a hallmark of “the laws of belligerent occupation.” However, as revealed in the entry Military Courts, one can have no certainty as to how any area of law, even ostensibly clear-cut statutory terms, would be interpreted and applied.

Both Lynk and Shany frame the Israeli/Palestinian case as a unique conundrum. For Lynk, the coexistence of Israel’s hyper-legalism with its undermining of the promise of the rule of law is a “paradox.” Somewhat similarly, Shany speaks of Israel’s conduct in terms of a sui generis: “What is exceptional about the Israeli occupation … is that unlike other modern occupiers, Israel attempted to pursue policies which run contrary to the basic tenets of the laws of belligerent occupation while resorting to extensive interpretation and application of these very same laws.” Yet again, these accounts shift the blame away from international law. But what if Israel/Palestine presents us with a broader lesson about international law’s relationship with state violence? As demonstrated in the entries Export of Knowledge and Combatants (and noted in the entry X Rays), the ideas and policies developed in Israel’s “legal laboratory” have been exported to other parts of the globe, including Western counterinsurgencies in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Like Israel, though usually to a different degree, other countries have combined legalism with undermining the (mythical) “rule of law.” Part of what makes The ABC of the OPT so troubling, then, is its relevance for law’s relationship with state violence far beyond Israel/Palestine.

In combining critiques “with the law” and “against the law,” The ABC of the OPT seeks to provide not only an unusually comprehensive and detailed analysis, but also a unique critical framework greater than the sum of its parts. It is precisely conversations such as this symposium that give hope that this critical framework is indeed bearing fruits.

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There are 15 weeks left until the UK’s (revised) scheduled departure from the EU on 31 October 2019. A new leader of the Conservative party, and so de facto Prime Minister, will be chosen by party members and presented to Parliament just before it plans to rise for summer recess on 25 July. When Parliament returns on 3 September, there will be just 8 weeks left to resolve the question which has plagued UK politics since the 2016 EU referendum: how, and on what terms, should the UK withdraw from the European Union?

The answers are limited, and unlikely to change with the new Prime Minister: 

  • Parliament may ratify the Withdrawal Agreement. This will trigger the withdrawal of the UK, and a transition period during which the UK will begin the next phase of negotiations on the future relationship with the EU;
  • the government, either through exercise of its own prerogative power on matters of foreign affairs or following legislated direction by the Parliament, may request a further extension of Article 50 TEU. Any extension requires the unanimous consent of the remaining 27 EU Member States acting through the European Council;
  • the Parliament may legislate to revoke Article 50 TEU, directing government to withdraw notification of the UK’s intention to leave the EU;

Both candidates for Conservative leadership have rejected these options, and aim to renegotiate the terms of the Withdraw Agreement in advance of October deadline. Both have indicated acceptance of ‘No-deal’ Brexit if they are fail to do so. On Brexit, a point of distinction between them is on the exercise of a power to prorogue Parliament in order to ensure the UK’s withdrawal on 31 October 2019: Jeremy Hunt will not use the power, Boris Johnson will not rule it out.

While this is possibly only politicking to win leadership, it has already spurred legal responses: Gina Miller, litigant in the Miller case, is the latest to threaten legal action. Sir John Major last week stated he would seek a judicial review of any attempt to prorogue Parliament in order to ensure Brexit in October. The threat of prorogation, if serious, could prove a catalyst for constitutional crisis. 

Prorogation could be both Undemocratic and Unconstitutional

To prorogue Parliament means to formally end a parliamentary session, and Parliament is ‘prorogued’ (or suspended) until the next session begins. The power to prorogue is a prerogative one – a royal power exercised on the advice of government – and, in simple terms, is where the Prime Minister advises the Queen to end the current parliamentary session who then exercises her power to do so.  It is one of the few powers still exercised by the Crown, though in reality, dependent on the advice of the executive.

Suspending parliamentary debate would almost certainly result in the exit of the UK on 31 October 2019 on No-deal terms. Revocation likely requires Parliamentary legislation, while ratification of any agreement with the EU requires Parliamentary consent. There is no action that the remaining 27 EU Member States could take to prevent a No-deal Brexit: a request for further extension of the Article 50 process must come from the departing state. Prorogation suspends Parliament, removing power to legislate during that period. 

While prorogation is a legal exercise of a prerogative power which belongs with government, for a Prime Minister to advise the Crown to prorogue with the express intent of thwarting any action by Parliament to prevent No-deal Brexit would, in opinion shared with others though not all, both undemocratic and unconstitutional. Undemocratic by suspending Parliamentary debate to ensure with near certainty an outcome without democratic mandate; and unconstitutional by making Parliamentary power merely contingent on government, and not sovereign apart from it.

Would Prorogation mean a Constitutional Crisis?

With each test of the UK constitution since 2016, politicians and pundits have asked whether the UK is now suffering, or about to suffer, a constitutional crisis. As of yet, it is not. 

The litmus test for what constitutes a constitutional crisis is when one institution (be it Parliament, the Courts, the Government or even the Crown) does not recognise the legitimate power of another causing an ongoing and critical state of legal uncertainty. Such prorogation of Parliament as endorsed by Johnson could be a catalyst for constitutional crisis; but is not – of itself – one. If government does not recognise the power of Parliament to direct its democratic will on matters of such constitutional importance such as Brexit and its objection to prorogation; or if parliamentarians do not recognise the power of government to prorogue (for example in carrying out the political threat made by former candidate for leader of the Conservatives, Rory Stewart, and convening an alternative Parliament were Johnson to prorogue the current one) – this would be a constitutional crisis.

The challenging issues faced by the Courts and the Crown in litigation on prorogation

A legal challenge would focus on the legality of the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen to prorogue parliament. The Queen’s decision could not be subject to judicial review. It’s plausible, though unlikely, that the High Court may consider the legality of the Prime Minister’s advice to be nonjusticiable. It will also likely be asked to consider an injunction to prevent the advice being actioned by the Queen – a constitutional quagmire in itself. 

While there is little doubt a case, if admissible, would be expedited to reach the Supreme Court as quickly as possible, there is little time for consideration and argument: even the comparable Miller litigationon the question of triggering Article 50 TEUwas nearly seven months from the launch of legal action to the delivery of the Supreme Court judgment. A judgment ruling that the Prime Minister has acted unlawfully by advising the Queen to prorogue Parliament would be meaningless if it is handed down on 1 November 2019. 

Beyond this, calling upon the Courts to adjudicate on prorogation brings the judiciary into an extremely polarised political dispute. In the Miller litigation, judges were publicly lambasted as ‘enemies of the people’ while answering questions on the rule of law and Parliamentary sovereignty. The same concerns relate to the Queen. As an institution, the Crown has not actively shaped law in centuries; and as a person, the Queen is resolutely apolitical. Calls for the Queen not to act on the advice of the Prime Minister and to refuse to prorogue Parliament require the Queen to make a decision with significant political and legal ramifications. Such an action would be unprecedented, even in a time without real precedent. 

For there to be disagreement between legislature and the executive, or even with a judgment of the Courts, is not unusual and certainly not a precursor to crisis. However, current legal and political struggles over power could have a far more lasting and damaging impact on public perception and trust in the institutions of democratic governance and civil society. We have already seen deeply worrying evidence of this in increasing attacks on the legitimacy of Parliament, and the demonisation of the judiciary and justice system, as well as the castigation of civil servantsexperts and academics.

The Elephant in the Room

There is one unavoidable certainty in Brexit: time. No vote in Parliament can prevent its passage, and there is no royal power to change the date beyond on paper. Any decision as regards Brexit – from Parliament, Government, the Courts or even the Crown – must be made while meaningful action can be still be taken. 

But the question of “what action?” shows no sign of resolution: as evidenced by indicative voting, there is no apparent majority in Parliament for any alternative to no-deal, except to avoid it. The current minority government holds on with a paper-thin majority in Parliament (of only three votes) by relying on a confidence and supply agreement with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. 

Ultimately the threat of prorogation is arguably a paper tiger: if a prime minister moved to prorogue Parliament, Parliament would likely call for a vote of no confidence in government in the time between the advice given and the power exercised. Such a vote could also be grounds even for the Queen to refuse the advice of government. If the government loses confidence of the House of Commons, this would result in the loss of Johnson’s premiership and the power to prorogue.

With 15 weeks left, the only question is whether there will be enough time left for it to matter.

The article was also published today on the LSE Brexit Blog.

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At first sight, the “ABC of the OPT” creates the impression that this is yet another book written exclusively by Israeli academics about a situation that has profoundly transformed the framework of occupation law—and international humanitarian law in general—a long time ago.

This first impression is underpinned by the use of hegemonically loaded terminology, structure, and choice of entries and sources.

Despite the many nuances academics employ to draw a picture of Israel’s “complicated” rule over the Palestinian people, this review takes issue with the hesitance displayed when looking for a much needed epistemological shift and concepts in understanding how law creates injustice in Israel_Palestine. Perhaps the lack of this shift is due to the authors’ usage of the lexicon format, which at times demands fitting a proverbial square into a circle. Consequently, the table of entries oscillates between headings that adopt the sanitized legal technicalities of the Israeli occupation authorities (“assigned residency”, “security prisoners”) and others with more vague meaning such as “kinship”, “quality of life”, or “lawfare”.

At closer reading, one does find in this volume straight-forward analyses of Israeli policies in Palestine. Thus, it is not yet another book written in the style of the occupiers reflecting their own history and practice. It is, for example, invigorating to read about the impact of Israeli pre-1967 policies that are crucial to uphold the ongoing colonisation of Palestine (p. 305, under entry “O- Outside/Inside”). This proves a historically conscious approach to understanding the situation beyond a hegemonic, linear narration. By also shedding light on colonial practices of the British Mandate era and its parallels and continuities, the book breaks with certain time markers that have for far too long dominated and obfuscated the thinking and writing about Palestine/Israel. This goes as well for the chapter exploring the concept of settler-colonialism (p. 202 under entry “J-Jewish Settlements”). It would have been interesting to read how this approach could be mirrored in legal terms. Reynolds and Xavier, for instance, consider the “very structure of settler-colonialism in a context of occupation“ criminalised under Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute.

Yet reading the book might leave you puzzled, because the most urgent task remains unaddressed: to provide an adequate legal framework that moves beyond international humanitarian law – and perhaps one that focuses on ending the occupation.

The Need for Epistemological Shifts or: A for Apartheid

The lexicon is certainly an unconventional way of addressing legal knowledge. But let’s recall that lexica are used to canonize knowledge that is deemed worthy, preserving it for the future. This raises the question why this format has been chosen to address a legal framework which no longer serves the situation on the ground. In fact, the idea that a prolonged, indefinite occupation that seeks to permanently change the social, political, and demographic reality of a foreign territory is illegal has been argued by one of the authors elsewhere in the case of the occupied Palestinian territory as well.

But while the “ABC of the OPT” can be lauded for providing detailed evidence of the illegality of Israel’s prolonged foreign military occupation of Palestine, its designed arbitrariness, and its unsustainability, the reader may wonder why the authors hesitate to address a more forward-thinking framework. Credit must be given for delivering an introduction to the mental lexicon of Israeli military thought and practice, picked up by Israeli law-makers, the judiciary and in part endorsed by Israeli legal scholarship (also known as the military-legal complex). The authors successfully reflect how the law can be stretched to its utmost breaking point, becoming the second skin of the occupation and steadily worsening the situation of the occupied, rendering them stateless, landless, homeless. Yet an urgently needed epistemological shift to assess the situation on the ground adequately is absent.

The very first entry of the book serves as an example of how the lexicon largely remains within Israeli military-judicial thinking, with the editors employing the first letter A for “assigned residency”. Military-legal thought and practice are in themselves a worthwhile endeavour that deserve to be studied. But in epistemological terms, I wonder why the suggested approach is incapable of integrating “apartheid” or “annexation” as legal terms and as epistemological concepts of systematized characterization of what is going on in Palestine.

Apartheid is defined in article II of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973):

The term "the crime of apartheid", which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa, shall apply to… inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.

Although the term apartheid was originally associated with the case of South Africa, it now represents a species of crime against humanity under customary international law and Art 7 (1) (j) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to which:

“The crime of apartheid” means inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.

Legal debates about the application of the legal concept of apartheid to the situation in Palestine_Israel are ongoing. Such an analysis has been suggested and extensively researched in the past. Numerous reports like those of the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, including studies of international legal, political, comparative, biographical, and ethnographic aspects of apartheid in Palestine_Israel have been published and have found their way into scholarly discourses. News reports, commentators, NGO reports highlighting apartheid policies with regard to access to water, freedom of movement, citizenship, reflect the need for a shift towards grasping the discriminatory and oppressive shape the Israeli domination of Palestine has assumed.

The idea that the occupation framework is obsolete is not new. Yet the lexicon merely mentions apartheid as a legal concept when it comes to the arguments of Palestinian petitioners before the High Court of Justice (Supreme Court of Israel). For example, the Abu Safiyeh v. Minister of Defense casein 2009 discusses questions of expropriation and annexation of Palestinian land for Jews only. But apartheid as a legal term is not mentioned. More precisely, the entry “Proportionality” refers to President of the High Court of Justice Beinisch’s concurring opinion, which rejects the comparison of Israel´s practices with apartheid because, according to the judge, there is a “ great distance between the security measures practiced by the state of Israel for the purpose of protection against terrorist attacks and the reprehensible practices of Apartheid policy.” (p. 161).

The entry then concludes by saying that such rendering does “ignore and deny the reality“, asserting that the “[court’s] discourse, however, is extracted from the broader context of opposition to occupation, annexation, and systematic discrimination”( p. 161).

But it seems that the entry does not confront the judge´s unwillingness to discuss apartheid as a legal concept. Thereby, the entry denies this legal debate as something worth mentioning and examining. The reader is left behind with the impression that the authors hide behind the smokescreen of Israeli legal language.

Why would calling out apartheid be important, though?

Only when there is a word for a certain relation or a type of injustice we can start to effectively incorporate it into our legal analysis. Think of the history of terms such as sexual harassment, intersectionality (on naming “power and privilege”, and rendering visible the centuries old oppression that links gender, race and class) (Vivian M. May, “Intersectionality”, Rethinking Women’s and Gender Studies, Chapter: Intersectionality, Publisher: Routledge (2012), Editors: Catherine Orr, Ann Braithwaite, Diane Lichtenstein, pp.155-172, p. 156), genocide (“destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group and the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor”), or apartheid (legalized racial supremacy). In each instance in which the “name” came into being, “the act of recognition was a momentous one”. 

What we learn from the history of any of these legal concepts mentioned above is that it wasn’t enough to paraphrase what is wrong; humanity needed a name for it, not least because it instigates thinking about law’s inner workings. That the authors often (not always) stopped short of doing so in the book under review here (whereas they do so elsewhere) is even more surprising, since there was no need to create new names terms already used by Palestinian and international scholarship could have been employed. Thus, the main concern here is the use of hegemonically military-loaded terminology, structure, and choice of entries and sources, which conform to an obsolete legal discourse that is structurally unable to remedy the very regime this hegemony sustains and reproduces.

This epistemological gap also has implications for the political discourse in Europe, where paraphrasing apartheid, without naming it, is becoming increasingly commonplace: since February 2017, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini has repeatedly raised concern over “entrench[-ing] a one-state reality, with unequal rights for the two peoples, perpetual occupation and conflict.” Similar language has been recently adopted by other European countries such as France and Germany, while European diplomats in the West Bank now refer to “systemic legal discrimination”.

Granted, the notion is loaded because of its rightfully horrifying associations with apartheid South Africa. Independent from that historical situation, however, it is a legal term of art that is being discussed as part of the preliminary proceedings brought by Palestine before the ICC in The Hague. But alas, the book does not engage in this grand debate currently happening in The Hague.

By not addressing the apartheid question, the authors are silencing not only Palestinian legal resistance to Israeli control over them but also growing academic scholarship about apartheid in Israel_Palestine, its potential, and its limits. This approach is at odds with the promise the book offers at the outset, when Walter Benjamin´s “tradition of the oppressed” is invoked in order to challenge dominant legal frameworks. It might come across as counter-intuitive given the highly asymmetrical situation on the ground, but it is Palestinians resisting Israeli policies shape the law, too. Palestinians have pushed for statehood recognition and membership of international legal and judicial bodies such as the ICC, have ratified and used numerous international legal treaties, and have a long-standing tradition in advocating for their rights in legal terms.

This again shows what goes missing when a narrative is used that simultaneously identifies a structural injustice and refrains from articulating an operational discourse towards its resolution. “And that has made all the difference.” (p. 161).

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Kein Thema dürfte im Moment derart präsent sein wie die Verteilung Schutzsuchender, die im Mittelmeer aus Seenot gerettet werden. Der Fall der Sea-Watch 3 und die öffentliche Diskussion über Moral und Recht hat die Dysfunktionalität aller bisherigen Ansätze, die aus Seenot geretteten Menschen innerhalb der EU gerecht zu verteilen, nochmals verdeutlicht. Die neuesten bekannt gewordenen Vorstöße scheinen jedoch ebenso wenig geeignet, endlich Klarheit in dieser immer wiederkehrenden Frage zu schaffen.

Bereits seit Juni 2018 waren Schiffe, die Menschen aus Seenot gerettet hatten, mehrfach gezwungen, tage- und wochenlang auf dem Mittelmeer umherzuirren, weil Regierungen von EU-Mitgliedsstaaten, vor allem Italien und Malta, ihnen das Einlaufen in ihre Häfen untersagten.

Schiffe durften schlussendlich nur dann in europäische Häfen einfahren, wenn eine zentrale Bedingung erfüllt war: Eine Gruppe europäischer Staaten musste ihre Bereitschaft erklären, die Zuständigkeit für die Durchführung der Asylverfahren der geretteten Schutzsuchenden zu übernehmen.

In diesem Zusammenhang wurde Ende vergangenen Jahres ein „ad hoc-Verteilmechanismus“ auf europäischer Ebene etabliert, welcher keine allgemeingültige Regelung im Rahmen einer Anpassung des Gemeinsamen Europäischen Asylsystems zur Frage der Aufnahme von aus Seenot geretteter Menschen etabliert. Er beinhaltete vielmehr einen „ship to ship approach“, der lediglich auf Erfahrungen und Vorgehensweisen früherer Fälle basierte.

Dass dies nicht länger praktikabel ist, zeigt sich an den beinahe täglich neuen aber auch unterschiedlichsten Forderungen, wie zuletzt von Heiko Maas. Statt immer neuen Forderungen müsste es einen zuverlässigen gesamteuropäischen modus operandi geben. Die Kommission drängt auf eine europäische Lösung. Einige Länder setzen sich für eine Umverteilung auf andere europäische Mitgliedstaaten nach einem vorhersehbaren Mechanismus ein. Ob im Wege der kommunalen Aufnahme in verschiedene europäische Städte, einer großen europäischen Lösung – also einer, an der alle europäischen Mitgliedstaaten mitwirken – oder einer kleineren „Koalition der Willigen“. Der modus operandi ist weniger einheitlich. Schon im Frühjahr hatte der Europäische Flüchtlingsrat (ECRE) in einer Policy Note vorgeschlagen, als kurzfristige Lösung auf „Umverteilung zu vertrauen“.

Schließlich gibt es auf EU-Ebene Versuche, die Verteilung zu regeln – das zeigt ein (bisher geheim gehaltenes aber geleaktes) Working-Paper des Rates der EU. Die „Guidelines“ sind ein unverbindlicher Vorschlag, wie man die Aufnahme von aus Seenot geretteten Menschen durch andere Mitgliedstaaten gestalten könnte. Es ähnelt vom Ansatz her stark anderen Projekten der Europäischen Union, bei denen eine Umverteilung in der Vergangenheit beschlossen wurde (Umverteilungsbeschlüsse I und II). Anders als bei den bisherigen „Umverteilungsprogrammen“ wird auch hier das Verfahren zur Aufnahme von Schutzsuchenden berührt. Der vorgesehene Mechanismus ist dabei vergleichbar mit dem „Hotspot-Approach“ der EU-Kommission, welcher in Griechenland und Italien umgesetzt wird und anfangs auch zur Umverteilung von Schutzsuchenden dienen sollte – in Griechenland mittlerweile aber als Grundlage für Abschiebungen im Geltungsbereich des „EU-Türkei Deals“ herangezogen wird.

Erinnerungen kommen auch mit Blick auf die von der EU geplanten „Ausschiffungsplattformen“ auf. Der im Working Paper verfolgte Ansatz kann als Kombination aus dem „Hotspot Approach“ und dem „Relocation-Ansatz“ verstanden werden. Sowohl auf europäischer als auch auf nationaler Ebene werfen die vorgesehenen Schritte viele rechtliche Fragen auf.

I. Vorgeschlagener Mechanismus zur Verteilung

Das sechsseitige Working Paper des Rates der EU mit Datum vom 12. Juni 2019 umfasst neun Kapitel und fasst im Wesentlichen zusammen, was auf europäischer Ebene seit Ende 2018 immer wieder und immer noch diskutiert wird.

Im ersten Teil der Guidelines sind die Hauptziele und Grundsätze aufgeführt, die für den vorübergehenden Mechanismus maßgebend sein sollen. Bezeichnenderweise werden die Freiwilligkeit der Mitgliedstaaten an der Teilnahme sowie das grundsätzliche Ziel der Optimierung der Handhabung der Ausschiffungsfälle betont. Grundlage dafür sollen die Erfahrungen aus bisherigen Ausschiffungsfällen („Disembarkation“) sein, die im Rahmen von „best practices“ erarbeitet wurden. Die Bindung an bestehende nationale und europarechtliche Vorgaben wird ausdrücklich formuliert, und es wird der vorübergehende Charakter der Vereinbarung erklärt.

Der zweite Teil macht deutlich, wann dieser Mechanismus angewandt werden soll. Dabei wird klargestellt, dass es im Wesentlichen nur um „Search and Rescue“-Operationen gehen soll oder andere Anlandungen, wenn ein humanitärer Grund vorliegt. Was dies bedeuten soll, bleibt offen. Mitgliedstaaten sollen eine Umverteilung anfragen und eine Erklärung abgeben, wenn sie „unter Druck“ stehen.

Im dritten Teil werden Struktur und Aufgaben einer „unterstützenden Plattform“, die für die Umsetzung des Verteilungsmechanismus zuständig sein soll, behandelt. Diese wird von der EU-Kommission und in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Krisenreaktionsmechanismus (IPCR) und gegebenenfalls in Abstimmung mit dem UNHCR und IOM koordiniert.

Der vierte Teil enthält die konkreten Verfahrensabläufe, die der Staat der Ausschiffung berücksichtigen soll – in der Praxis wären das erfahrungsgemäß bspw. Italien oder Malta. Dabei sind bestimmte Verfahrensschritte vorgesehen, die im Mitgliedstaat der Ausschiffung durchgeführt werden sollen.

Der fünfte Teil wird die „composition of the relocation pool“ – das Herzstück eines Umverteilungsverfahrens – in einem Satz abgehandelt.

Im sechsten Teil wird die Beteiligung der Agenturen European Asylum Support Office (EASO), Frontex und Europol knapp beschrieben. EASO soll etwa bei der Ausarbeitung der „matching criteria“ zur Umverteilung beteiligt sein und die Prozesse koordinieren. Frontex und Europol sollen im Sicherheitsscreening unterstützen, Frontex außerdem Fingerabdrücke nehmen und Rückführungen organisieren. Besonders der letzte Punkt ist interessant, weil von Rückführungen in der Debatte keine Rede ist. Bisher musste davon ausgegangen werden, dass die Personen erst umverteilt werden und der Zielmitgliedstaat für eine etwaige Rückführung zuständig wäre. Insgesamt sind die Aufgabengebiete der Agenturen so vage, dass eine Einordnung kaum möglich ist.

Im „Working Paper“ vermisst man etwas Zentrales: die Rechtsgrundlagen, auf die das Vorgehen gestützt werden sollen. Man kann nur vermuten, dass der Rat der EU sich – wie von ECRE vorgeschlagen und wie bei den bisherigen Umverteilungen (vgl BT.-Drs. 19/7209, Antwort der Bundesregierung auf Frage Nr. 11) praktiziert – auf die humanitäre Klausel der Dublin-III-Verordnung zu stützen beabsichtigt (Art. 17 Abs. 2). Solange es dahingehend keine andere Rechtsgrundlage gibt, ist dies auch die einzige Möglichkeit, denn die Dublin-III-Verordnung regelt die Asylzuständigkeitsallokation in der Union abschließend. Die Verordnung ist anwendbar, sobald in einem Mitgliedstaat der Union ein Asylantrag gestellt wird (vgl. Art. 3 Abs. 1). Daran, dass ein solcher Antrag jedenfalls im Anlanden im Hafen zu sehen ist, können keine Zweifel bestehen (vgl. dazu hier, S. 27).

II. Einordnung der Verfahrensschritte

Die konkreten Verfahrensschritte sollen im Mitgliedstaat der „Ausschiffung“ durchgeführt werden. Vorgesehen ist etwa auch eine EURODAC-Registrierung (4.4.) – ein Schritt, den Matteo Salvini vermeiden wollte, weil er befürchtet, dass die Personen nach der Umverteilung entsprechend der Dublin-III-VO wieder in den Ersteinreisestaat Italien zurückgeschickt werden. Eine im Übrigen falsche Darstellung, denn unabhängig davon, ob ein EURODAC-Eintrag vorliegt oder nicht, ist bei den Betroffenen eindeutig, dass sie über Italien oder Malta eingereist sind. Ein EURODAC-Treffer ist nur ein möglicher Nachweis für die Zuständigkeit des Ersteinreisestaats, aber nicht der einzige (Art. 13, Art. 22 Abs. 3 Dublin-III-VO). Einige rechtlich problematische Schritte sollen nun näher beleuchtet werden.

Sicherheitsüberprüfung

Vorgesehen ist eine erste Identifizierung, Registrierung, Fingerabdruckabnahme und schnelle Sicherheitskontrolle (unter 4.1).

Es soll eine Prüfung anhand nationaler und EU-Informationssysteme mit Unterstützung von Frontex und Europol stattfinden (z.B. European Dactyloscopy (Eurodac), Schengener Informationssystem (SIS), Visa-Informationssystem (VIS), Europol und Interpol-Datenbanken).

So soll sichergestellt werden, dass keine der in die EU einreisenden Personen eine Bedrohung für die Öffentliche Sicherheit darstellt. Deutschland entsendet Vertreter der Bundespolizei und des Bundesamtes für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) für eine Durchführung von Sicherheitsüberprüfungen im Rahmen der Aufnahme von aus Seenot Geretteten (vgl. BT-Drs. 19/9703, Antwort auf Frage Nr. 6).

Der Einsatz des BfV außerhalb des Bundesgebietes ist rechtlich nicht unumstritten. Die Aufgaben und damit die Zuständigkeit des BfV ergeben sich aus dem Bundesverfassungsschutzgesetz (BVerfSchG). Als Rechtsgrundlage für ein Handeln des BfV kommt § 3 Abs. 1 Nr. 1 BVerfSchG in Betracht, weil in den übrigen Nr. 2-4 immer der „Geltungsbereich des Gesetzes“ eröffnet sein muss, wovon man bei einem Einsatz in Malta nicht ausgehen kann. § 3 Abs. 1 Nr. 1 BVerfSchG hingegen sieht den Aufgabenbereich als eröffnet an, wenn bestimmte Schutzgüter, wie die freiheitliche demokratische Grundordnung oder der Bestand oder die Sicherheit Bundes betroffen sind. In seinen Tatbestandsvoraussetzungen limitiert § 3 Abs. 1 Nr. 1 BVerfSchG die Zuständigkeit nicht auf den Geltungsbereich des Gesetzes. Es ist jedoch dort auch nicht ausdrücklich vorgesehen, dass ein Einsatz im Ausland möglich ist. Wäre ein Auslandseinsatz vom Gesetzgeber vorgesehen gewesen, also dass ein Einsatz unabhängig vom Tätigkeitsort möglich erscheint, dann hätte dies klarer zum Ausdruck gebracht werden müssen (vgl. Meinel, NVwZ 2018, 852). Fragwürdig ist daher schon die Rechtsgrundlage für das Handeln des BfV in Malta oder Italien. Hinzu kommt, dass die Sicherheitsüberprüfung nicht im Einzelfall bei konkreten Sicherheitsbedenken durchgeführt wird, sondern bei allen Personen. Dabei wird ein vom Bundeskriminalamt, der Bundespolizei und dem Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz gemeinsam erarbeiteter Leitfaden verwendet und die Überprüfungsverfahren werden für eine Dauer von ca. zwei Stunden durchgeführt (vgl. BT-Drs. 19/9703, Frage 9). Dies erweckt zumindest den Anschein, dass alle Schutzsuchende – was unverhältnismäßig wäre – unter Generalverdacht gestellt und als potenzielle Gefährdung angesehen werden.

Inhaftierung als Regel

Ausweislich des Punktes 4.2. des Working Papers ist ein „Assessment regarding possible use of alternatives to detention or detention, on a case by case basis” vorzunehmen. Im Klartext: grundsätzlich sollen Personen in Haft genommen werden, nur im Ausnahmefall nicht. Dies kommt einem bekannt vor. Auch beim Hotspot-Ansatz war eine generelle Inhaftierung geplant. Die Europäische Kommission hat den Mitgliedstaaten in ihrer nicht-veröffentlichten „Explanatory Note on the “Hotspot“ approach“ etwas Arbeit abgenommen und in einer Verfahrensübersicht jeweils die (vermeintliche) Rechtsgrundlage für eine mögliche Inhaftierung vermerkt (dort S. 12). Im öffentlich zugänglichen Dokument zum Hotspot-Konzept ist von möglichen Inhaftierungen keine Rede.

Dennoch wird Haft regelmäßig als struktureller Bestandteil des Konzepts bezeichnet – um Menschen schneller und effektiver abschieben zu können. Auf den griechischen Inseln konnte diese nur durch ein (seinerseits rechtswidriges) Verbot, die jeweilige Insel zu verlassen, ersetzt werden, weil die ostägäischen Inseln mehr als 10 Fährstunden vom griechischen Festland entfernt liegen. Die neu gewählte, konservative Regierung hat indes bereits angekündigt wiederrum „closed and guarded structures“ einzuführen.

Haft soll nun auch struktureller Bestandteil der Umverteilung nach einer Seenotrettung sein. Ein Sprecher des Bundesinnenministeriums betonte in Berlin, er hätte keine konkrete Kenntnis darüber, wie die Unterbringung erfolge. Man ginge aber davon aus, „dass die Art und Weise, wie die Menschen behandelt werden, nicht zu beanstanden ist“. Mit einer grundsätzlichen Inhaftnahme wird jedoch das Verhältnis von Regel und Ausnahme ins Gegenteil verkehrt. Haft ist der größtmögliche Eingriff in die persönliche Bewegungsfreiheit und deshalb ultima ratio staatlichen Handelns. Sie ist nicht grundsätzlich verboten, aber an hohe Anforderungen geknüpft. Besonders, weil es sich bei Asylsuchenden (auch) nach der Rechtsprechung des Europäischen Gerichtshofs für Menschenrechte um per sé besonders schutzbedürftige Personen handelt. Den wichtigsten Grundsatz normiert Art. 8 der Aufnahmerichtlinie: Personen dürfen nicht allein deshalb in Haft genommen werden, weil sie einen Asylantrag stellen. Nach einem anderen Grund sucht man bei einer Inhaftnahme zur Umverteilung auf andere europäische Mitgliedstaaten vergeblich. Der Umverteilungsmechanismus wird ja gerade durch die Asylantragstellung ausgelöst. Und bis zu einer möglichen Umverteilung werden die Personen inhaftiert.

Weiterhin muss stets ein Haftgrund vorliegen, der sich an Menschenrechten messen lassen muss. Die EMRK gibt eine abschließende Liste vor, die etwa von der Aufnahmerichtlinie (Art. 8) konkretisiert wird. Dahingehend fällt zunächst Art. 5 Abs. 1 Buchstabe f EMRK auf, der eine „Freiheitsentziehung zur Verhinderung der unerlaubten Einreise“ ermöglicht. Diesen kritischen Punkt, den man bei Hotspots, die (auch) den Zweck der Rückführung in die Türkei und der Verhinderung der unrechtmäßigen Einreise verfolgen, herangezogen hat, ist bei der Umverteilung noch fernliegender. Denn: für keine dieser Personen steht auch nur in Zweifel, dass sie in einen anderen Mitgliedstaat umverteilt werden sollen, ihre Einreise soll nie verhindert werden, nur die Weiterreise außerhalb des Mechanismus. Die Haft findet deshalb nicht zur Verhinderung der illegalen Einreise statt. Ausweislich Art. 8 Abs. 3 Buchstabe a Aufnahmerichtlinie kann auch inhaftiert werden, um die Identität oder Staatsangehörigkeit festzustellen (korrespondierend: Art. 5 Abs. 1 Buchstabe b EMRK). Aber eben auch nur dazu. Gesetze ermöglichen staatliche Eingriffe. Vor allem aber begrenzen sie deren Umfang. Eine Inhaftierung könnte demnach nur zur Identifizierung durchgeführt werden, aber nicht darüber hinaus. Schließlich ist stets im Einzelfall zu entscheiden, ob und wie lange Personen in Haft genommen werden (für die Aufnahmerichtlinie: Art. 8 Abs. 2). Das bedeutet: Pauschalentscheidungen sind verboten. Sprich: Es ist rechtswidrig, aus Seenot gerettete Menschen anschließend pauschal zu inhaftieren.

Das Verhältnis zwischen den individuellen Bedürfnissen von Personen und hoheitlichem Interesse ist stets in Einklang zu bringen. Der EGMR hält jede Inhaftierung, die länger dauert als „vernünftigerweise notwendig“, für rechtswidrig (dort: Rn. 74 f.), und die Europäische Grundrechtecharta verlangt eine unbedingte Erforderlichkeit: Sobald ein milderes Mittel bereitsteht, ist die Haft rechtswidrig (dort: S. 38). Einzelfallprüfung heißt auch, dass spezielle Vulnerabilitäten zu berücksichtigen sind. Ein Beispiel: 2018 war jede dritte Person, die in der EU einen Asylantrag gestellt hat, minderjährig. Auch Minderjährige werden vom Umverteilungsmechanismus betroffen sein. Sie dürfen aber nur im „äußersten Falle“ und „für den kürzestmöglichen Zeitraum“ (Art. 11 Abs. 2 Aufnahmerichtlinie) in Haft genommen werden. Die Mitgliedstaaten unternehmen „alle Anstrengungen“, um die Haft zu beenden. Haft als generelles Konzept im Umverteilungsprozedere ist deshalb rechtlich unhaltbar. Auch, wenn die Beurteilung „on a case by case basis“ stattfinden soll, ist fraglich, wo die Personen sonst untergebracht werden sollen. Und welches Gericht jede einzelne Inhaftnahme überprüft – denn dies ist nötig (vgl. Art. 5 Abs. 3 und 4 EMRK).

Zusammensetzung des “Relocation Pools“

Personen sollen sodann aus der Haft umverteilt werden. Eine Auswahl der Personen findet anhand des „Relocation Pools“ statt. Im Entwurf wird das als eine Variable bezeichnet, die abhängig von den Indikatoren ist, welche die Mitgliedstaaten selbst festlegen, unter welchen Voraussetzungen sie Menschen aufnehmen wollen. Dazu wurden auf europäischer Ebene unter den Mitgliedstaaten unterschiedliche Möglichkeiten diskutiert und die Vorschläge reichten von einer Möglichkeit zur Aufnahme nur dann, wenn ein eindeutiger Anspruch auf internationalen Schutz vorliegt, welcher aufgrund der entsprechenden Anerkennungsquote ermittelt wird, bis hin zu der Aufnahme aller Personen, die aus Seenot gerettet werden. Die Bundesregierung betont, dass sie vor der Zusage über eine Aufnahme keine asylrechtliche Prüfung vornimmt (vgl. Plenarprotokoll 19/103, Frage Nr. 9). 

Ein solches Vorgehen stellt ein Novum dar. Nicht nur, dass Mitgliedstaaten selbst eine Liste mit Anforderungen stellen können, wen sie aufnehmen wollen. Sie können diese Anforderungen aufgrund der Freiwilligkeit jederzeit wieder ändern. EASO kann und soll zwar bei der Erarbeitung von „matching“-Kriterien, also der Frage ob jemand zu den Anforderungen eines Mitgliedstaates passt, unterstützen. Wie diese aussehen, wird aber nicht erläutert. Das schafft doppelte Unsicherheit für die Betroffenen, deren Bedürfnisse an keiner Stelle eine Rolle spielen. Es ist nicht klar, ob und unter welchen Bedingungen sie überhaupt von Mitgliedstaaten aufgenommen werden. Und was passiert, wenn sich kein Mitgliedstaat bereit erklärt?

Dabei sollte die generelle Grundlage ein Gemeinsames Europäisches Asylsystem sein, das eine einheitliche Zuständigkeitsregelung schafft, mit gemeinsamen Mindeststandards für Asylverfahren im Sinne eines „gemeinsamen Raumes des Schutzes und der Solidarität“, so wie es auch im Stockholmer Programm heißt. Schon bei den Relocation-Beschlüssen waren die Kriterien nicht klar geregelt und den Mitgliedstaaten anheimgestellt. Der Bundesrepublik etwa wurde von verschiedenen Seiten vorgeworfen, vor allem auch Personen mit Familienangehörigen in Deutschland aufzunehmen, für die sie nach der Dublin-III-Verordnung ohnehin zuständig gewesen wäre (dort S. 21). Dies könnte auch zu noch absurderen Ergebnissen führen, beispielsweise, dass Mitgliedstaaten Personen mit niedriger Schutzquote aufnehmen, dafür dann sogar Fördermittel der EU erhalten, um dann diese Personen so schnell wie möglich wieder zurückzuführen. Und überhaupt: was ist, wenn Personen an Bord eines Schiffes sind, die in keine der Kriterien passen? Der italienische Innenminister Matteo Salvini wird darauf bestehen, dass alle Personen umverteilt werden. Und dann beginnen die Verhandlungen von vorn. Nur nicht für alle, sondern eben nur für einige, die keiner haben will, die Ausgestoßenen der Ausgestoßenen.

III. Ausblick

Mit dem Verteilmechanismus wird versucht, eine Lücke zu schließen, die aufgrund der politischen Haltung und faktischen Umsetzung entstanden ist. Es ist die buchstäbliche „coalition of the willing“. Nur dass gar nicht klar ist, wer der Koalition angehört. Und auch nicht, welche Kriterien für Mitgliedstaaten gelten, die sich entscheiden, der Koalition anzugehören. Sollten Kriterien gefunden werden, die den europäischen Mitgliedstaaten nicht gefallen, können sie wieder austreten. Es kann kein Zweifel daran bestehen, dass jetzt eine politische ad-hoc-Lösung gebraucht wird. Doch es muss klar sein, dass diese eben nur temporär gelten darf. Und dass sie so wie sie derzeit vorgeschlagen wird, nicht umgesetzt werden sollte. Die Verfahrensschritte der „Guidelines“ sind weitgehend vom Hotspot-Konzept kopiert inklusive der massenhaften pauschalen Inhaftierung. Dies ist, wie die Erfahrungen zeigen, nicht im Einklang mit europäischem Recht umsetzbar. Die angespannte politische Situation, in der unbedingt eine Lösung gefunden werden muss, darf nicht als Gelegenheit genutzt werden, klammheimlich rechtswidrige Praktiken zu etablieren. Der wichtigste Punkt ist indes ausgelassen: Es bleibt weiterhin offen, nach welchen Kriterien die Umverteilung stattfinden soll. Das Gemeinsame Europäische Asylsystem sollte auch ein Verteilungssystem sein. Die Zuständigkeit für die Überprüfung von Asylanträgen sollte vorhersehbar und allgemeingültig festgelegt werden. Es ist zur Hängepartie geworden, in der weiterhin über jeden Einzelfall verhandelt wird. Eine ernsthafte, vernünftige und rechtssichere Lösung scheint nicht in Sicht.

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The ABC of the OPT, the award-winning new publication by three outstanding Israeli scholars and jurists – Orna Ben-Naftali, Michael Sfard and Hedi Viterbo –demonstrates, in a masterly fashion, the use and abuse of the laws of belligerent occupation as a masquerade for raw power and as a tool for oppression. The authors illustrate, using the format of a legal lexicon dedicated to specific legal terms and rhetorical devices (or newspeak), how the distorted application of the laws of belligerent occupation by Israeli lawyers and judges has conferred an aura of decency and legitimacy upon the long and open-ended occupation of the West Bank. This approach draws its intellectual roots from classic insights of critical legal studies – e.g., that law is chronically malleable to abuse and that law constitutes politics through other means.

This critical approach is particularly suitable for application to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, which featured a very high degree of legalism and where the true political implications and motivations behind measures taken were hidden from the international community (vis-à-vis which a façade of ‘disputed territories’ had been employed in lieu of outright annexation) and large segments of the Israeli public (which regarded the oppression and dispossession in the Occupied Territories as practically reversible and morally negligible in view of the value attached to the ‘bigger picture’ of regional peace and security). The book’s exposure of the resort to belligerent occupation law as a disguise for policies that undercut its underlying principles is a cautionary tale about the limits of international law in constraining power, and about its restricted ability to shape and direct the exercise of public authority.         

Still, an even broader lesson may be drawn about the laws of belligerent occupation – a lesson for which the Israeli-Palestinian cases represents only one, albeit prominent, case study. It is a stark reality that, with the possible exception of early 20th century conflicts, the laws of belligerent occupation have been mostly honored in the breach. In most cases (Germany, Japan, Northern Cyprus, Western Sahara, Georgia, Crimea), occupying forces denied the very applicability of the laws of belligerent occupation, and in those few cases in which they were applied (Iraq, Palestine), major deviations from basic principles of belligerent occupation law have occurred. Arguably, this state of affairs can be explained by reference to structural reasons. Section III of the 1907 Hague Regulations, which laid down the basic principles of belligerent occupation law (that the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention built upon), was based on 19th century assumptions about military occupation: That it would be of a relatively short duration (terminating in a peace treaty or annexation), and that, as a result, it is founded on the notion of temporariness; that the occupier holds the territory as a trustee for the actual sovereign; and that the purpose of the laws of occupation is to protect the interest of the local population in preserving public order and safety (l’ordre et la vie publics) during such times of transition.

The belligerent occupations of the 20th and 21st century appear to follow a very different logic. They are long-term or open-ended (Palestine), aimed at radically transforming the political situation in the territory in question – often intended to facilitate a regime change (Germany, Japan, Iraq), unlawful annexation (Crimea, Western Sahara) or secession (Georgia, Northern Cyprus). Situations of belligerent occupation also feature, at times, high levels of violence (Iraq, Palestine), which obfuscate the distinction between the conduct and closure of active hostilities on which many norms of the laws of belligerent occupation are premised.

All of these developments underscore the limited fit between belligerent occupation law and the political reality it strives to regulate. Under such conditions, it is not surprising that political forces push the law in different directions – facilitating on the one hand excessively restrictive interpretations of safeguards found in belligerent occupation law (under the guise of interpretive theories, ranging from ‘original intent’ to ‘dynamic interpretation’), and on the other hand attempts to complement shortcoming in belligerent occupation law through resort to international human rights law and domestic law. This does not detract from the lexicon’s important critical remarks about the elasticity of the laws of belligerent occupation as applied by the Israeli authorities; it however contextualizes the Israel-Palestine case study as one more illustration of the limited ability of the laws of belligerent occupation to shape the conduct of occupying powers (perhaps underscoring the continued partial relevance of Hersch Lauterpacht’s famous quip about international humanitarian law being at the vanishing point of international law).

What is exceptional about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is that unlike other modern occupiers, Israel attempted to pursue policies which run contrary to the basic tenets of the laws of belligerent occupation while resorting to extensive interpretation and application of these very same laws. It is interesting to note that Israel itself avoided the formal application of the laws of belligerent occupation over territories where it could muster domestic support for annexation (East Jerusalem, Golan Heights), or where it was able to establish on the ground looser modalities of control than those found in the areas of the West Bank it actively administers (post-2005 Gaza, South Lebanon, and Area A of the West Bank – whose day to day administration is performed by the Palestinian Authority). It is only with respect to Areas B and C of the West Bank, where day-to-day military control is intensive, but whose annexation would generate considerable domestic and international opposition, that Israel now resorts to the laws of belligerent occupation as a normative point of departure for its policies.   

The book also discusses in detail the involvement of judges and lawyers in facilitating the distortion of the laws of belligerent occupation through elastic interpretation of its key terms (e.g., assigned residence), ignoring the plain language of the law (such as in the case of the blanket ban on deportations found in article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention) and invoking impressible restrictions on the scope of protected rights (such as in the case of invoking deterrence as the basis for house demolitions, notwithstanding the language of article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention). There is no doubt in my eyes that this is indeed the case, and that the legal machinery of the Israeli occupation is based on a systematic misconstruction of the laws of belligerent occupation, which run contrary to some of its key principles (e.g., temporariness, status quo, prioritization of rights of protected persons etc.).

Still, it would be a mistake to ignore the power-limiting implications of the introduction of a bureaucratic framework through which international law is applied. This allows individuals, in some cases, to navigate the system in ways that protect their rights and interests (e.g., regaining seized land or obtaining compensation for harm unlawfully inflicted) and does complicate and raise the costs associated with taking certain government measures. By operating as a side constraint on power, the laws of belligerent occupation did lead in certain cases to important changes in policy. For example, following the Supreme Court’s Ajuri judgment, which tied the policy of ‘assigned residence’ to individual culpability of deported/assigned family members of suspected terrorists, the policy was suspended. International criticism of the legal positions taken by Israeli officials have also led to the abandonment of the policy of deportation of terrorists, and for a short period of time also of house demolitions (at the recommendation of the Israeli military; the policy was reintroduced due to a combination of political pressure to respond resolutely to terror attacks and the Israel Security Agency’s belief in the effectiveness of the policy). Attempts to apply Israeli law directly to the West Bank through legal instruments such as the 2017 Regularisation Law, which clearly violates the provisions of protection of private property in occupied territories, might fail for similar reasons (and indeed, the Attorney General has taken the extraordinary step of supportinng a pending petition against the Kneseet to nullify the law in question).

In fact, it is the restraining power of formal adherence to the rule of law and the ‘enlightened occupation’ myth of the first years of occupation, which resulted in the introduction of judicial review over Israeli Defense Force activities in the occupied territories and in the creation of associated judicial remedies, as well as in certain liberal initiatives such as the suspension of the death penalty in the Occupied Territories. The existence of legal restraints has arguably rendered the occupation less cruel than what it would have been otherwise, and thus more legitimate in the eyes of Israelis and outside observers (at least until the first intifada, which brought about the collapse of the ‘enlightened occupation’ myth); such a perception appears to have contributed to its long duration. In the aftermath of the first intifada, which led to more brutal oppression measures by Israel, the occupation was transformed into a complicated system of direct and indirect rule, involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the siege around Gaza.

Finally, the book seems to downplay the fact that Israeli politicians, lawyers and judges have not adopted a uniform approach towards the laws of belligerent occupation. To the contrary, the laws of belligerent occupation remain a battleground for pursuing competing legal and political conceptions. For example, one can find important judicial decisions that rejected governmental policies which were based on controversial readings of the laws of belligerent occupation (e.g., the Elon Moreh judgment, removing settlements built on private land, the 443 judgment, that required opening a main road to Palestinian traffic, and the human shields judgment that outlawed the practice of using local civilians in arrest operations). At the same time, some judicial decisions fully endorsed other governmental policies based on equally controversial legal constructions (e.g., judgments on the legality of deportations and house demolitions), or failed to challenge them (e.g., by holding that the policy of constructing settlement non-justiciable). While all Israeli judges put their country’s interest first, there is a real debate what that interest is, and how much weight traditional understanding of the laws of belligerent occupation should be afforded in limiting policy choices.

Still, the tide appears to be turning. More extreme Israeli politicians push for annexationist policies and advocate increased cruelty vis-à-vis Palestinian terrorists and their relatives (removing prisoner benefits, reconsidering the ban on the death penalties, calling for resumption of deportations/assigning residence of family members of suspected terrorists) – as part of a more general populist turn in Israeli politics. Such initiatives are met nowadays with a hesitant reaction from the Israeli judiciary, which has become over time more conservative and more complaisant. Although the Regularization Law may represent ‘one bridge too far’ and will probably be struck down by the Court, similar expropriation policies are already implemented through more subtle measures, which meet little judicial resistance (e.g., declaration of contested land as ‘state land’ on which settlements can be built according to Israeli case law, use of good faith as an excuse against demolition of illegal outposts, referring to settlers into local residents under Hague regulations).

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In the ABC of the OPT, Orna Ben-Naftali, Michael Sfard and Hedi Viterbo offer a guidebook for the legal tourist – a narrated cartography to the strange legal planet that has become Israel/Palestine, governed by hundreds of military and civil officials that harbor wide discretion and a flexible rule that I call phantom sovereignty. Shaped as a lexicon, it includes entries that offer both a thematic and a chronological history of what Ben-Naftali has previously called "the Israeli version of international law". It is also a guide to the relics and ruin of old colonial practices, and to the legal and administrative legacies of old empires that have been adopted, innovated upon and developed into international law, as well as into the Palestinian past and present (see Stoler, Duress: Imperial durabilities in our times, 2016, 37-67).

Fleshing out the concepts, doctrines and toolkits of rule that make up the legal terrain of the world’s longest remaining occupation, the format of the lexicon revives the colonial and imperial phantoms that have created international law, and how those legacies are used today by the Israeli state against the Palestinian population in the occupied territories and beyond. Since one of the most powerful tools of colonial rule has been the creation of colonial knowledge, and the transformation of the world of the subjects through administrative, economic and physical means of violence, as well as international institutions (see Anghie, Colonialism and the birth of international institutions, NYUJ Int’l L. & Pol. 34 (2001): 513), the use of the lexicon seeks to cut through the colonial political grammar of the occupation. The legal grammar of the occupation is usually boxed in within some complex mode of analysis of asymmetric conflict; or the thin cobwebs of human rights law that look at the occupation one violation at a time, essentially doing away with the larger political context of the occupation – the partition plan, the war of independence and the Nakba of 1948.

In this brief review, I will explore two aspects of the legal cartography offered in the book in the entry on nomos and the entry on military courts. The entry on nomos, authored by Orna Ben-Naftali, takes on a thematic thread of the entire book and explains how Israel created an alternative legal universe of international law. The entry on the military courts, written by Hedi Viterbo, looks at the institutions that have intervened in the lives of most of the Palestinian population: Israel has arrested and detained over three quarters of a million Palestinians. In 2018 alone, the military arrested 6500 Palestinians, 1800 of whom were children.

Both entries demonstrate the ways in which sovereignty over Palestinians is deployed by bureaucratic means, its weapons of procedural violence creating thousands of mundane daily routines and decisions carried out by clerks, soldiers and judges that remain unknown – Phantom sovereigns.

Ben-Naftali, in her entry on nomos, takes us on an exploratory journey to the land where the Israeli version of international law rules. Like a dedicated guide, she enters this terrain, which is the text of Judge Edmond Levy’s report, without preliminary judgment, or disdain. She truly tries to speak the language of the strange legal country that pops up with every page of the report. She does not, as some liberal legal theorists would do, cling to the procedural flaws of the legal language of the strange country, or to the broken way it uses international law. She does not remain at the edges of the interpretation, threatened by the way it conjures a semblance of law, devoid of its spirit. She is willing to look over the shoulder of the bureaucrat, or the lawyer, as sociologist Max Weber suggests, in order to understand the boundaries of their respective worlds.

The text she chooses to guide through and which “succinctly exemplifies the Israeli nomos is contained in a report of an expert committee, established by the Israeli prime minister […] to examine the legal status of Israeli construction in the Judea and Samaria” (p. 278). This report concludes that from an international legal perspective, the West Bank is not occupied territory; the law of belligerent occupation is not applicable to the area; the “prevailing view” in international law is that Jewish settlements are lawful; and that Israel has a valid claim to sovereignty over the territory.

Ben-Naftali goes into the report, trying to understand what kind of world is created by the Israeli understanding of international law that has been developed in the text. Woven throughout the lexicon are possible explanations for the question how Israel uses international law as a regime of justification. Regimes of justification, according to sociologist Luc Boltanski, explain the way people make moral and political sense of their world and justify their particular actions and collective way of life.

Although the Levy committee report was to determine the status of the Israeli settlements according to international law, it was actually a government response to domestic pressures. On the one hand, pending petitions in the High Court of Justice to demolish illegal outposts put forth by human rights organizations and Palestinian residents of the occupied territories; and on the other, the demand from the Israeli settler lobby for a legal basis for the settlements. While there is nothing new in the understanding that domestic politics forge national interpretations of international law, the Levy commission’s report brings the disparity between the norms that can be agreed upon at the domestic level and the norms that can be agreed upon at the international and transnational levels to a new benchmark. The disparity severs any continuity of interpretation and reference between international law as understood by the Israeli government and the rest of the legal world. The Levy committee decides in its report that there exists no belligerent occupation – and if there is no occupation, than the law of occupation does not apply. Moreover, most importantly for their purposes, the very thing deemed illegal by the law of belligerent occupation, which is settling the occupied area with the occupier’s population, is seen as not illegal at all.

Ben-Naftali goes on to show that since there is a rare consensus across the globe that the Palestinian territories are occupied, and that settlements are illegal according to the fourth Geneva Convention, and that there is a right to self determination of Palestinians, the report intended to create a new legal nomos, in which the area cannot be occupied because the Jewish people are exercising their exclusive right to self determination and sovereignty based on the Bible and later colonial documents.  The report supposes that the West Bank was Terra Nullius, and empty land, whose people, the Palestinians have no right to self determination.  

The peculiar way in which the Levy committee uses the long life of the occupation of the OPT in order to legitimate its legalities is not original, but has roots with imperial discourse concerning occupied populations. The committee concluded that Israeli rule over the occupied territories through administration and law over time has laid the groundwork for the very legality of Israeli control of the territory, because the law of belligerent occupation can apply only to short-term occupations. Legalizing occupation with its own duration is reminiscent of the response of the British colonial government of India, when facing the Indian independence movement’s claim that they must "quit India". The British, in response, claimed that India was British by law and had been for over a century. Alongside the temporal argument lies the language of the mandate for Palestine, given to the British by the League of Nations in 1922, that included the text of the 1917 Balfour declaration that Palestine was the territory in which the Jewish national home was to be built. Ben-Naftali, in her entry on nomos, writes on how international law becomes inseparable from the historical ethno-national narrative. "That narrative unfolds a deep conviction in the exclusive right of the Jewish people to sovereignty over the land of Mandatory Palestine. This conviction – indeed, vision – informs its construction of international law. Transported to the normative world, this vision posits a revision of international law." (p. 283 (

Actually, the Levy committee does not engage with international law. It is almost unconcerned by the community, legal technologies, text and mechanisms of power that scholars, practitioners, politicians and the public call international law. Ben-Naftali brilliantly shows how for decades, it was actually the mere utilization of the framework of the law of belligerent occupation by the High Court of Justice that was supposed to provide legitimacy for the military rule over the occupied territory. The Levy committee’s narrative itself exposes the illegality of Israel’s occupation, for if there is not a belligerent occupation, then the military commander has no authority to rule, which means that all legal and administrative decisions taken by the military apparatus of the occupation are illegal and were illegal retroactively. This illegality is further advanced by the committee’s vision for international law Israeli style, including an exclusive right to Jewish self-determination in the land of Israel, which is based on British colonial documents: the Balfour declaration of 1917 and the mandate for Palestine of 1922.

The Levy committee’s understanding of international law as enabling a racial hierarchy of self-determination and sovereignty is frozen in imperial time, yet deeply rooted in contemporary bureaucratic practices. Any and every critique of the Levy committee and the settlement project based on international law are met with domestic disdain. Ben-Naftali’s audience no longer inhabits the territory she writes of.

The nomos in which there is no occupation shares the same cartography with military courts, segregated physical spaces, with one gate opening to Israeli citizens, mostly lawyers, and the other opening for Palestinians residents of the occupied or unoccupied territories. In these mundane, bureaucratic courts, which are – as Hedi Viterbo shows in his entry – anything but exceptional or extraordinary, the product of the British colonial emergency defense regulations of 1945, there are no citizens, only subjects. These are courts, run by the military prosecution, in which thousands of cases are solved through plea bargains, usually after indictment sheets are filled with 20 items, to be reduced to five and bargained upon, with not a shred of evidence shown by anyone to any judge. The plea bargains are signed because very few Palestinians accused in military courts are willing to take the risk of chance and run the course of a trial. The footnotes of Viterbo’s entry on military courts that describe the structure, procedures and decision-making practices of the military courts tell the chilling story of one the most powerful institutions that govern Palestinian life since 1967. In this brief entry, Viterbo focuses on the ways procedural violence is employed in the military courts in the constant creation of uncertainty in the legal process and in legal outcomes. 

The institutional cartography of the military courts is based on a series of contradictions between international law, military decrees and administrative practice. I call the contradictions that allow for an extreme flexibility in the decision-making of the colonial officials of the civil administration and the colonial judges of the military courts the building blocks of phantom sovereignty, formed and shaped by bureaucratic practice.

The nomos of the military courts, and the nomos of settlers in the view of the Levy commission is created in and through daily practices and routines of a colonial bureaucracy whose operation is based on legal emergency and raison d’état, and which adheres to a racial hierarchy that binds certain laws to specific populations. These laws are entirely based on a series of exceptions – exceptions to a rule that is never adhered to. A routinization of emergencies.

In many ways, Israel’s view of international law is precisely based on such permanent exceptions to a series of rules that were never adhered to from the outset of the occupation.

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Wir haben gerade 70 Jahre Grundgesetz gefeiert. Aus diesem Anlass wurden auch zahlreiche Wünsche geäußert, das Grundgesetz zu ergänzen, etwa um Kinderrechte, Parität, Klimaschutz. Sie fordern nicht zuletzt angesichts solcher Wünsche schon seit langem, das Verfassungsänderungsverfahren selbst zu ändern und um sogenannte Unterbrecher zu ergänzen. Was meinen Sie damit?

Mein Bedenken gegen die gegenwärtige Regelung rührt daher, dass sie den Unterschied zwischen Verfassungsgebung und Gesetzgebung verwischt. Die Verfassung legt die Konditionen für das politische Handeln der Repräsentanten des Volkes fest und wird deswegen auf das Volk als Träger der Staatsgewalt zurückgeführt. Gesetzgebung erfolgt auf der Grundlage und im Rahmen der Verfassung durch die Repräsentanten des Volkes. So wie die Verfassungsänderung im Grundgesetz geregelt ist, geht sie aber im selben Verfahren und durch dieselben Akteure wie die Gesetzgebung vonstatten. Die politischen Parteien bleiben dabei unter sich. Der Kreis derer, die die Initiative für Verfassungsänderungen ergreifen können, ist auf die parteipolitisch besetzten Organe beschränkt, die Entscheidungsbefugnis liegt bei Bundestag und Bundesrat. Der einzige Unterschied zur Gesetzgebung besteht im Erfordernis einer Zweidritteldrittelmehrheit. Regierungsparteien und Oppositionsparteien müssen sich also einigen. Dies führt, statt zu deliberativen Verfahren, zu Aushandlungsprozessen, wie sie auch bei der Gesetzgebung schon geläufig sind, wenn Große Koalitionen regieren oder der Vermittlungsausschuss eingeschaltet werden muss. Das Verfahren erzeugt bei den Akteuren also kein Bewusstsein, dass sie bei der Verfassungsänderung in anderer Eigenschaft tätig werden als bei der Gesetzgebung. Sie verändern die Bedingungen ihres Handelns, die ihnen idealerweise vom Volk vorgeschrieben werden. Das hat zu einigen unglücklichen Verfassungsänderungen geführt, die die Verfassung aufgebläht und im selben Maß Richtungsänderungen der Politik, etwa nach Wahlen, erschwert haben. Daher würde ich gern „Unterbrecher“ in das Verfahren einbauen, welche die Parteipolitik zu einem Perspektivenwechsel von ihren Eigeninteressen zum Gesamtinteresse veranlassen. 

Wie könnten solche Unterbrecher aussehen?

Es gibt viele Möglichkeiten. Der Verfassungsvergleich hilft hier sehr. Man kann bei den unterschiedlichen Etappen der Verfassungsänderung ansetzen und die Einbeziehung anderer als parteipolitischer Akteure erwägen. Die erste Station ist die Initiative. Hier könnte man daran denken, das Initiativrecht auszuweiten. Der zweite Schritt ist die Ausarbeitung von Verfassungsänderungen. Auch hier könnten weitere Akteure hinzutreten. Dasselbe ist beim letzten Schritt, der Abstimmung, denkbar. Das sind erst einmal die Zugriffsmöglichkeiten. Damit ist der Kreis möglicher „Unterbrecher“ aber noch nicht geschlossen. Auch vielfältige Kombinationen sind möglich. Ich bin nicht auf eine bestimmte Lösung festgelegt.

Und wie könnten die Lösungen auf den einzelnen Ebenen genau aussehen?

Bei der Initiative könnte man zusätzlich zu den bisherigen Berechtigten an ein Volksbegehren denken, aber auch an andere Akteure, etwa relevante gesellschaftliche Gruppen. Auf der zweiten Stufe, der Ausarbeitung, ließe sich nach europäischem Muster ein Konvent einschalten. Bei der Frage der Schlussabstimmung liegt natürlich ein Referendum nahe. 

Man muss aber sofort relativierend daran erinnern, dass wir eine sehr detaillierte Verfassung haben. Je detaillierter die Verfassung, desto höher die Änderungsanfälligkeit. Viele Änderungen werden eher technischer als politischer Art sein und nicht den Aufwand eines Konvents oder eines Referendums lohnen. Nicht jede Verfassungsänderung ist referendumswürdig.

Wie ließe sich da sinnvoll differenzieren?

Ich halte es für sehr schwierig, inhaltliche Kriterien, die hinreichend präzise sind, zu formulieren. Frankreich löst das Problem prozedural. Verfassungsänderungen werden dort von der Nationalversammlung und dem Senat beschlossen und dann einem Referendum unterzogen. Der Präsident kann aber bestimmen, dass statt des Volkes der aus den beiden Parlamentshäusern gebildete Kongress entscheidet. In diesem Fall ist jedoch eine Dreifünftelmehrheit erforderlich. Die EU hat ein quantitatives Kriterium gewählt.  Vertragsänderungsbegehren werden einem Konvent vorgelegt, der einen Entwurf verabschiedet, den dann die Staats- und Regierungschefs der Mitgliedstaaten beschließen. Von der Einberufung eines Konvents kann aber abgesehen werden, wenn der Umfang der Änderungen dieses aufwändige Verfahren nicht rechtfertigt. Wegen der Schwierigkeit, inhaltliche Kriterien zu formulieren, scheint die Verfahrenslösung vorzugswürdig. Materiell könnte man sich dann mit einer Generalklausel begnügen. 

Wählt man eine Öffnung des Initiativrechts, muss sichergestellt werden, dass nicht alle möglichen Anliegen ins Grundgesetz drängen. Die Verfassung ist ein Ensemble von Rechtsnormen mit der Funktion, die Staatstätigkeit materiell und formell zu regeln und die Grundlagen der gesellschaftlichen Ordnung festzulegen. Wenn man von dieser Funktion ausgeht, sind viele Fragen entweder nicht verfassungswürdig oder verfassungsfähig. Nicht verfassungswürdig ist alles, was von der Funktion der Verfassung nicht gedeckt wird. Nicht verfassungsfähig ist alles, was durch Recht nicht bewirkt werden kann. Ich denke etwa an die Initiative, die im Zuge der Wiedervereinigung von Seiten einiger ostdeutscher Abgeordneten kam: „Alle Deutschen sind zu Mitmenschlichkeit und Gemeinsinn verpflichtet“. Dagegen lässt sich natürlich in der Sache nichts einwenden, aber als Rechtssatz ist diese Forderung untauglich. 

Diese Tendenz, das Grundgesetz als ein Buch zu verstehen, in dem alles drinnen steht, was uns lieb und teuer ist, ist ja schon länger zu beobachten. Kinderrechte sind so ein Beispiel, aber auch Sport. Das Grundgesetz als eine Art Herrgottswinkel der Republik, wo man reinstellt, was man anbetet. Hat das nicht auch seine republikanische Berechtigung?

Das hängt davon ab, welches Verfassungsverständnis man hat. Ich würde gern daran festhalten, dass die Verfassung aus Rechtsnormen besteht, die sich von anderen Rechtsnormen durch ihren Staatsbezug, ihre Grundsätzlichkeit und ihren Rang unterscheiden. Deswegen hat der „Herrgottswinkel“ in der Verfassung keinen Platz. Es gibt aber Verständnisse, nach denen die Verfassung heute der Ort ist, an dem die grundlegenden Ordnungs- und Gerechtigkeitsvorstellungen der Gesellschaft symbolischen Ausdruck finden. Uwe Volkmann vertritt diese Auffassung mit Nachdruck. Ich möchte nicht leugnen, dass es diese Tendenz gibt, würde ihr aber ungern freien Lauf lassen. Schreibt man etwas in der Verfassung fest, muss man auch wollen, dass es juristisch relevant ist, und dazu gehört, dass es vom Verfassungsgericht durchgesetzt wird. Nicht alles aus guten Gründen Wünschbare eignet sich schon deswegen als Verfassungsrechtssatz. 

Sie stören sich also weniger an der Quantität der Verfassungsänderungen, die wir gesehen haben – immerhin 63 in 70 Jahren Grundgesetz –, sondern eher an ihrer Qualität? 

Es gibt keine quantitativen Grenzen für Verfassungsänderungen. Je detailreicher eine Verfassung ist und je mehr sich der soziale Wandel beschleunigt, desto häufiger werden Änderungen nötig werden. Mich stören vor allem diejenigen Verfassungsänderungen, die den demokratischen Prozess übermäßig einengen. Alles, was auf der Verfassungsebene geregelt ist, wird damit ja dem demokratischen Prozess entzogen. Mehrheitsentscheidungen finden an der Verfassung ihre Grenze, Wahlen sind hinsichtlich aller Materien, die auf die Verfassungsebene gehoben werden, folgenlos. Solche Verfassungsänderungen haben aber stattgefunden. Das gegenwärtige Verfahren der Verfassungsänderung begünstigt sie. Da die politischen Parteien hier unter sich bleiben, aber eine Zweidrittelmehrheit erreichen müssen, ist die Versuchung groß, so viel wie möglich von ihren jeweiligen Positionen in der Verfassung zu verankern und damit dem Mehrheitswechsel zu entziehen. Dadurch kommt es zu großen Kompromisspaketen. Im schlimmsten Fall setzt dann jeder Politikwechsel eine vorgängige Verfassungsänderung voraus. Gerade im Grundrechtsbereich ist hier gesündigt worden. Art. 10 und 16a sind abschreckende Beispiele. Wenn man sie nach der Änderung liest, hat man den Eindruck, man habe ein Gesetz oder gar eine Verwaltungsvorschrift vor sich und nicht ein Grundrecht. Grundrechte brauchen eben wegen ihrer Grundsätzlichkeit wenig Worte. Sie definieren, was frei sein soll, und erlauben dem Gesetzgeber, die Freiheit auszugestalten oder zu beschränken. Bedenken Sie: Wir haben das Recht auf Leben mit einem einfachen Gesetzesvorbehalt, ohne dass darunter die Freiheitlichkeit der Bundesrepublik gelitten hätte.

Aber bedeutet die Erschwerung des Verfassungsänderungsverfahrens nicht ebenfalls, dass Flexibilität und politische Reaktionsmöglichkeiten erschwert werden? Die relativ leichte Änderbarkeit des Grundgesetzes erlaubt ja z.B. auch, auf Fehlsteuerungen oder Übersteuerungen durch das Bundesverfassungsgericht zu reagieren. Eine Erschwerung der Verfassungsänderung würde also im Zweifel die Rolle des Gerichts stärken, oder?

Die USA bestätigen diese Sorge. Dort sind Verfassungsänderungen so schwer, dass sie praktisch keine Chance haben. Der Anpassungsdruck, dem eine über 200 Jahre alte Verfassung ausgesetzt ist, lastet dann auf dem Supreme Court, dessen Macht erheblich steigt. Er wirkt partiell wie ein Verfassungsgeber und ist gegen Verfassungsänderungen immunisiert. Allein durch die Kürze und Dunkelheit der amerikanischen Verfassung entschärft sich das Problem etwas. Aber Sie haben recht: Welchen Vorschlag auch immer man annimmt, werden Verfassungsänderungen erschwert. Das kann den positiven Effekt haben, dass nicht wirklich dringliche oder nicht wirklich verfassungsadäquate Änderungen verhindert werden; es kann den negativen Effekt haben, dass dringend notwendige scheitern. Deswegen würde ich mich gegen jede drastische Erschwerung sträuben. Das geht schon bei dem Typ unserer Verfassung nicht, die von Anfang an sehr detailreich war und im Lauf der Zeit noch viel detailreicher geworden ist. Die Erschwerung der Verfassungsänderung ist kein  Selbstzweck. Sie kann sich nur dadurch legitimieren, dass sie den Schwächen des derzeitigen Verfahrens begegnet.

Unter dem Schlagwort „Unterbrecher“ wird ja noch ein weiteres Verfahren diskutiert, nämlich sogenannte zeitliche Unterbrecher, bei denen eine Verfassungsänderung erst wirksam wird, wenn das nachfolgende Parlament sie bestätigt. Was halten Sie davon?

Ja, mit meiner anfänglichen Liste ist das Reservoir von Lösungsmöglichkeiten noch nicht erschöpft. Die zeitlichen Unterbrecher sind deswegen reizvoll, weil sie das Volk mittelbar ins Spiel bringen. Zwischen dem Beschluss der Verfassungsänderung und seiner Bestätigung findet eine Wahl statt, so dass die Verfassungsänderung Gegenstand des Wahlkampfs werden kann. Das Ergebnis hat dann eine höhere Legitimität für sich, weil es die öffentliche Meinung berücksichtigen wird. Ganz ohne Nachteile ist aber auch diese Variante nicht. Nehmen wir an, die Verfassungsänderung wird gleich zu Beginn einer Legislaturperiode als dringlich empfunden, dann vergehen bei einer vierjährigen Wahlperiode mindestens fünf Jahre, bis sie in Kraft treten kann. Das ist bei wirklich dringenden Änderungen natürlich unzuträglich. Die Niederlande, wo es diesen zeitlichen „Unterbrecher“ gibt, lösen das Problem, indem eine Verfassungsänderung die sofortige Parlamentsauflösung nach sich zieht. Das scheint mir aber wiederum unverhältnismäßig zu sein. Einen anderen Weg kannte die Weimarer Verfassung: Gesetze, die als dringlich galten, konnten in Kraft treten, auch wenn noch eine Volksabstimmung anstand. Auf Verfassungsänderungen übertragen, würde das bedeuten, dass eine für dringlich erklärte Verfassungsänderung zunächst gilt, aber unter dem Vorbehalt der Bestätigung steht.

Wie würden Sie es denn nun am liebsten machen?

Ich könnte mir am ehesten vorstellen, dass man bei Großänderungen, wie immer man sie definiert, ein konventartiges Gremium einschaltet, so dass der Entwurf nicht allein im parteipolitischen Verhandlungsgeschäft zustande kommt. Das bedeutet aber nicht, dass Politiker ausgeschlossen wären, es genügt, dass sie nicht unter sich bleiben und ihre reine Binnenperspektive aufgeben müssen. Der so zustande gekommene Entwurf ist dann Entscheidungsgrundlage. Auf der Entscheidungsebene möchte ich für bedeutende Verfassungsänderungen auch ein Referendum nicht ausschließen. 

Woher nehmen Sie die positive Haltung gegenüber Instrumenten der direkten Demokratie? Angesichts erstarkender populistischer Kräfte in Deutschland und Europa könnte man sich ja fragen, ob man damit nicht lieber gar nichts mehr zu tun haben möchte .

Ich kenne die Gefahren von Volksentscheiden und rate allgemein von ihnen ab. Bei Verfassungsänderungen scheinen sie mir aber geringer zu sein als bei tagespolitischen Fragen wie z.B. der Frage „Kohleausstieg ja oder nein“. Das liegt zum einen daran, dass es sich um Grundfragen der gesellschaftlichen und politischen Ordnung handelt, zum anderen daran, dass sie weniger komplex sind und sich ohne erhebliches Expertenwissen beantworten lassen. Ob zum Beispiel das Grundrecht auf Asyl weiter unbedingt gewährleistet sein oder mit einem Gesetzesvorbehalt versehen werden soll, kann im öffentlichen Diskurs eher einer Klärung zugeführt werden als die Einführung der Impfpflicht. Anders ist es bei Fragen, wo die Ja-Nein-Entscheidung die Komplexität des Problems nicht abbilden kann und das Verfahren auch die Möglichkeit von Kompromissen ausschließt, die ja im parteipolitischen Spektrum immer vorhanden ist.

Wie wäre es denn auf der mittleren Ebene, also bei der Ausarbeitung, externe Akteure einzubinden, also etwa die Venedig-Kommission?

Entscheidend ist für mich immer, dass der zur Verfassungsaufblähung neigende Modus der parteipolitischen Verhandlungsrunden aufgebrochen wird. Das kann auch durch einen „Unterbrecher“ wie die Venedig-Kommission gelingen. Für ein Land mit so reicher Verfassungserfahrung wie die Bundesrepublik würde sich diese Lösung aber wohl nicht als nächstliegende aufdrängen. Ich würde auch kein reines Expertengremium einschalten. Je weniger die Politik eingebunden ist, desto weniger fühlt sie sich an den Expertenentwurf gebunden. Gemischte Gremien sind vorzuziehen. Allerdings war meine eigene Erfahrung mit einem solchen Gremium, der 1. Föderalismuskommission, auch nicht nur ermutigend.  Zu Anfang, als die Politiker überzeugt waren, dass etwas zur Überwindung der föderalen Politikblockaden geschehen müsse, aber noch keine Vorstellungen hatten, was die geeigneten Mittel wären, fanden die Experten Gehör. Etwa in der Mitte des Verfahrens wurde jedoch eine Sitzung ohne die Experten anberaumt, in der sich die Vorstellungen der Politikerseite formten. Danach war die Expertenbank nur noch ein lästiger Störer.  

Könnte man das nicht durch Verfahrensregelungen verhindern? Durch Regelungen, die die politischen Akteure an den ausgearbeiteten Vorschlag binden? 

Eine Bindung halte ich aus demokratischen Gründen für ausgeschlossen. Die Entscheidungen müssen denen vorbehalten sein, die in einem demokratischen Verantwortungszusammenhang stehen. Bei sehr aufwändigen und komplexen Vorhaben kann aber durchaus eine faktische Bindungswirkung eintreten. So war es etwa bei den beiden EU-Konventen, dem Grundrechts-Konvent und dem Verfassungs-Konvent. Die Staats- und Regierungschefs der Mitgliedstaaten besaßen völlige Entscheidungsfreiheit, hätten ohne die Konvents-Entwürfe ein derartiges Dokument aber wohl nicht zustande gebracht und haben das Grundgerüst übernommen und sich bei ihren Änderungen eher auf Marginalien beschränkt. 

Wenn wir beim Thema Europa sind: Auch dort sehen wir ja, dass es neben den formellen Vertragsänderungen quasi Vertragsänderungen im politischen Prozess gibt. Eine solche war, jedenfalls wird das von Teilen des Parlaments so kolportiert, die Festlegung des Rates auf einen der Spitzenkandidaten. Wie ist Ihr Urteil über diesen Vorgang heute und vor fünf Jahren?

Als die Idee der Spitzenkandidaten vor fünf Jahren aufkam, konnte ich ihr nicht viel abgewinnen. Sie war von drei Erwartungen inspiriert. Zum einen hoffte man, das Interesse an der Wahl durch die Personalisierung zu erhöhen. Das  missglückte damals. Die Wahlbeteiligung sank, statt zu steigen. Zum anderen ging es um einen Bedeutungsgewinn des Parlaments gegenüber dem Rat und am Ende um einen Schritt hin zur Parlamentarisierung der EU. Das gelang, denn der Rat ließ sich trotz Widerstrebens darauf ein, den siegreichen Spitzenkandidaten als Kommissionspräsident vorzuschlagen. Ich nahm damals an, dass der Rat bei künftigen Wahlen nicht hinter diese Konzession zurückfallen könne. Darin habe ich mich aber womöglich geirrt. Unter Führung Macrons gibt es im Rat derzeit starken Widerstand gegen das Modell der Spitzenkandidaten. 

Ein rechtlicher Anspruch auf die Nominierung eines Spitzenkandidaten zum Kommissionschef besteht jedenfalls nicht, aber auch ein demokratischer Anspruch, wie ihn das Europäische Parlament aufzubauen versucht, besteht nicht. Das Europäische Parlament hat die Demokratie nicht für sich gepachtet. Schon das Wahlverfahren spricht dagegen. Die Europa-Wahl ist nicht wirklich europäisiert, sondern eine Addition von 28 nationalen Wahlen. Wir wählen nach nationalem Wahlrecht, wir können nur nationale Parteien wählen, die begreiflicherweise mit nationalen Vorstellungen Wahlkampf machen. Im Parlament spielen diese Parteien – seit der letzten Wahl insgesamt 177 – aber als solche gar keine Rolle. Das Sagen haben vielmehr die nach der Wahl gebildeten Fraktionen, die nicht gewählt werden können. Darunter leidet die Repräsentativität des Europäischen Parlaments für die Unionsbürger. 

Auch die Konstruktion der europäischen Institutionen rechtfertigt den Anspruch des Parlaments nicht. Die EU ist kein parlamentarisches System, es gibt keine parlamentarische Regierung und nicht das strukturbildende Gegenüber von Regierungsmehrheit und oppositioneller Minderheit im Parlament. Der Spitzenkandidat ist unter diesen Bedingungen ein Konstrukt ohne Unterbau. Eine Parlamentarisierung der EU, wie sie dem Parlament vorschwebt, wäre schließlich alles andere als wünschenswert, solange es keinen wirklich europäisierten öffentlichen Diskurs, in den es eingebettet wäre, gibt und die Hauptquelle der demokratischen Legitimation der EU noch immer aus den Mitgliedstaaten und also über den Rat fließt. Unter diesen Umständen wäre eine Parlamentarisierung der EU, die den Rat als Vertretung der Mitgliedstaaten zu einem Anhängsel des Parlaments machte, demokratisch gesehen kein Fortschritt, sondern ein Rückschritt

Dagegen fände ich europäische Listen sehr förderlich, weil die Parteien, welche sich auf einer solchen Liste zusammenfinden, dem Wähler ein europäisches Aktionsprogramm vorstellen müssten und ihn damit erst in den Stand setzten, über europäische Alternativen zu entscheiden, die dann im Parlamentsbetrieb auch eine Rolle spielten, während die jetzt kandidierenden nationalen Parteien dafür keine Gewähr geben können. Aber das Parlament hat sich erst kürzlich gegen europäische Listen ausgesprochen, merkwürdigerweise mit dem Argument, dass sie der Bürgernähe abträglich wären.

Wie groß ist eigentlich die Plausibilität dieses Arguments? Die Frage stellt sich doch auch im Hinblick auf die Erststimme bei der Bundestagswahl. Wer kennt schon, wenn überhaupt, mehr als den amtierenden Wahlkreisabgeordneten?

Das ist eine Legende. Man wählt primär Richtungen, nicht Personen. 

Sophie Schönberger hat vor diesem Hintergrund einen Systemwechsel hin zu einem reinen Verhältniswahlrecht gefordert. Haben Sie Sympathien dafür?

Ich war mit unserem um Persönlichkeitswahl-Elemente angereicherten Verhältniswahlsystem eigentlich immer sehr einverstanden, bis sich das scheinbar unlösbare Problem der Überhangmandate so in den Vordergrund geschoben hat. Wobei ich gar nicht sicher bin, dass es unlösbar ist. Es gibt ja eine Reihe plausibel erscheinender Vorschläge, aber die Parteien können sich auf keinen einigen.

Die besondere Herausforderung beim Wahlrecht ist ja, dass die Politik hier ihre eigenen Spielregeln schafft. Hier stellt sich das Problem der reinen Innenperspektive also ähnlich, wie wenn die politischen Akteure als verfassungsändernder Gesetzgeber tätig werden. Könnte hier nicht eine Verfassungsänderung im Sinne einer Konstitutionalisierung von Wahlrechtsfragen sogar ein Ausweg sein, weil es eine Möglichkeit wäre, ganz neue Wege zu gehen, und nicht nur am bestehenden System zu justieren? Auf diese Weise könnte man auch auf Verfassungsrechtsprechung in einer Weise reagieren, die man nicht hat, wenn man einfachgesetzlich agiert.

Ich finde, dass die Grundsätze des Wahlsystems von einer derart elementaren Wichtigkeit für den demokratischen Betrieb sind, dass sie in eine Verfassung hineingehören. Die Fragen, nach welchem Wahlsystem gewählt wird, ob es Sperrklauseln gibt und wie Stimmen in Mandate umgerechnet werden, sind so grundlegend für den Parteienwettbewerb, dass sie nicht einfachen Mehrheiten überlassen werden sollten. Bisher hat man es zwar vermieden, Wahlrechtsfragen gegen Widerstände der Opposition zu entscheiden, aber das könnte sich ja ändern.

Wenn ich für die Aufnahme der Grundsätze des Wahlsystems ins Grundgesetz plädiere, möchte ich aber nicht gegen meine Intention, die Aufblähung der Verfassung zu vermeiden, verstoßen. Es ginge nur um die Grundsätze, für den Gesetzgeber bliebe dann immer noch genügend Spielraum bei der Ausfüllung.

Zurück zur Frage der Unterbrecher: Kann es nicht sein, dass sich die Frage praktisch erledigt? Die Verfassungsänderung dürfte ja ohnehin schwieriger werden, weil wir auf Länder- und auf Bundesebene immer mehr Parteien sehen, so dass die doppelte Zweidrittelmehrheit in Zukunft immer schwieriger zu erreichen sein dürfte.

Das ist nicht ausgeschlossen, ändert aber nichts an dem Änderungsbedarf für Art. 79, denn bei dem Detailreichtum des Grundgesetzes ist es ganz unwahrscheinlich, dass es in Zukunft nicht mehr zu Verfassungsänderungen kommen wird. Bei den Änderungen, die in Angriff genommen werden, besteht aber die Gefahr der Funktionsschwächung der Verfassung und der Verkürzung demokratischer Spielräume fort und wird mit der Vermehrung der Parteien, die für eine Verfassungsänderung benötigt werden, sogar noch größer.  

Die Fragen stellten Anna von Notz und Maximilian Steinbeis.

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It is a particular honour to be asked to contribute to the Book Review Symposium at Verfassungsblog because of the occasion: the arrival of an outstanding work on international law that addresses – dispassionately, authoritatively and comprehensively – one of the most pervasive and most tragic issues of our time: Israel’s interminable occupation of Palestine. This book du jour – The ABC of the OPT – by Orna, Michael and Hedi is truly a singular intellectual and academic achievement.

This book has already proven to be an important boost to my understanding of the many legal, political and human dimensions of the conflict. I read large sections of the book in preparation for my most recent report to the United Nations General Assembly this past October, and I made liberal references to it in this report, which focuses on Israel’s inexorable steps towards the annexation of the West Bank.

As I read the ABC book, I reflected on the fact that, after the human spirit itself, perhaps the most invaluable asset on the side of those who believe in a compassionate peace in the Middle East is international law, and the rights-based approach towards justice, equality and peace that it represents.

I say this because, at its highest and most noble, international law represents impartiality and universal values, because international law has constructed a broad global consensus on the central issues of this conflict, and because international law provides the possibility for creating a more level playing field for the parties to the conflict to find durable and just solutions to the issues that afflict them. 

I say this also because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most international of international conflicts. The world community, largely through the United Nations, endorsed the creation of the state of Israel, it has cared over the past seven decades for the millions of Palestinians who became refugees following the creation of Israel, it has closely supervised the on-going conflict through hundreds of UN resolutions, and it has been intimately engaged in the region through successive diplomatic peace initiatives, massive arms sales and multiple peacekeeping missions. International responsibility is integral to the conflict.

All of which leads me to the point that I wish to make here, which comes through loudly and clearly in the ABC book: the Israeli occupation of Palestine embodies a fateful and troubling paradox regarding international law that we must acknowledge and think our way through.

On the one hand, this conflict – more than any other struggle since the end of the Second World War – has contributed immensely to the progressive development on international rule-making. Many of the core principles of public international law – the laws of war and occupation, the inter-relationship between human rights law and humanitarian law, the centrality of self-determination, the rights of refugees, the scourge of demographic engineering, and the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, among others – have been significantly shaped, enriched and deepened by the copious UN resolutions, diplomatic statements, legal commentaries and judicial pronouncements on the many features of the conflict.

Yet, at the same time, the efficacy of international law has suffered mightily because the most powerful actors involved in the management of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have consistently marginalized the promise and power of the rule of law as a political and diplomatic touchstone when constructing the negotiation principles for the Oslo peace process.

Since the establishment of the peace process in 1993, the major agreements and declarations on the conflict have been conspicuously silent on the many cornerstone legal obligations and terms that I just mentioned. We would look in vain through the leading documents and proclamations of the Oslo peace process for any mention of the terms ‘occupation’, ‘illegal settlements’, ‘unlawful annexation’ or the fundamental rights of the Palestinian refugees. In the hands of Israel and the countries and international bodies leading the peace process – the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia – these well-established and irreducible legal principles have disappeared from the page as if written in vanishing ink, and they have instead been recast as issues for further negotiations between two very unequal parties. 

This is no oversight. As Professor Victor Kattan has succinctly stated: “the problem is not international law per se, but its lack of enforcement; that, in the Middle East, international law is closer to power than to justice.” In this conflict, the occupying power has insisted that international law should have no role, the international mediating powers have shown no great interest in infusing the substantive obligations under international law into the peace process, and the occupied people have no real power to demand the application of a rights-based approach. Thus, the tragedy has become that, for all of the substantive body of international law generated by this conflict over the past seven decades, the actual victims in Palestine and Israel have seen precious few of these rights and foundational principles honoured and insisted upon by the international community.

Continuing to marginalize the substantive principles of international law will not bring peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict any closer. As a political undertaking, international law provides a baseline for negotiations by acting as the indispensable rights-based foundation for state leaders and diplomatic representatives to actually honour and enforce what they have endorsed and rhetorically supported.

As a moral vision, it has the potential to mobilize the vital energy of NGOs and civil society to articulate and principles of humanitarian protection and human rights as an achievable and inspiring campaign tool.

And as legal principles, the core public international law principles of equality, dignity and justice are, in the absence of a functioning peace process, a productive basis for politics-by-other-means aimed at enforcing humanitarian and human rights norms through global tribunals (such as the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice), domestic courts and the forums of the United Nations.

International law possesses the untapped capacity to ameliorate the unequal playing field between the parties to this conflict, so that the grossly asymmetrical bargaining power that presently exists between Israel and the Palestinians will not continue to distort the negotiating process and lead predictably to yet more peace-process failures. To be sure, international law alone will not bring about a just and durable peace in the Middle East – that also requires changes in the international and local popular climate, more engaged political will and a new vision of what a final peace with justice will look like – but the deliberate and unprincipled exclusion of international law from the various stages of the Oslo process over the past quarter-century has contributed mightily to the quagmire that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in today.

In my concluding remarks, let me return to the ABC book, and let me offer some lavish praise for it. 

First, it is an astonishingly well-informed legal treatise. This book is now the definitive go-to handbook – the indispensable guide – on international human rights and humanitarian law as it applies to occupied Palestine. It is substantive, definitive and utterly persuasive. Against the stardust that is regularly thrown up to either attempt to justify the occupation, or to excuse its many excesses, this book stands as a compelling answer, and a thorough refutation, to those shallow and spurious arguments that are rationalizations for impermissible behaviour rather than any true reflection for what the law stands for today.

Secondly, this book is a statement of moral courage. At a time when the scope of political and academic discourse is becoming narrowed in Israel, and when the democratic space for human rights defenders and engaged civil society is steadily shrinking, it takes an ample amount of personal audacity by Israelis of conscience to engaged in a project that so vigorously challenges the prevailing, and disfiguring, political ethos of the day. At a time when not only Israel, but many other countries as well, seek to act unbound by the laws and values of the modern world, this book reminds us that legal and political exceptionalism is an anathema to a secure and cooperative global society.

And my final point is how greatly I admire the multiple literary references and indeed, the A-Z structure of the book. How rare it is for lawyers to write with such literary imagination and panache. Thomas More, Cicero, Walter Benjamin and many more have found their way into this book, thanks to the authors. Someone once quipped that inside every lawyer lies a dead poet. The authors of this remarkable book have obviously channelled their vibrant and very-much-alive inner poets for the benefit of us all. 

To Orna, to Michael and to Hedi, thank you for your arduous and vital accomplishment. Your book reminds us that there is no other real project for the law, but to make the world better. And your book is already doing that.         

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I. The Laboratory

Israel’s occupation or “control” (as the book prefers to call it) of Palestinian Territory that began with six days in June 1967, presents a depressing and tragic political and moral conundrum. For the international lawyer, it is also a legal laboratory of global relevance. “The Israeli occupation of Palestine embodies a fateful and troubling paradox regarding international law that we must acknowledge and think our way through”, writes Michael Lynk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, in his contribution to this symposium. A paradox, because the legal texts produced around it have on the one hand contributed to the progressive development of international law and have shaped key principles ranging from self-determination to the non-recognition of unlawful territorial acquisitions, but have on the other hand undermined international law because the actors involved in the management of the conflict have “consistently marginalized the promise and power of the rule of law as a political and diplomatic touchstone”, writes Lynk.

For the authors of the ABC, what matters most is that – far from being a space of lawlessness – , the Israeli occupation is “filled to the brim with legalism” (ABC, at p 21). The control of the Palestinian territories is probably “the most legalized such regime in world history” (ABC, at p. 2). It is therefore a “laboratory”, and “[a] careful scrutiny of the experiments carried out in Israel’s legal laboratory may well generate lessons that are relevant to other situations, and indeed to the course of the development of international law itself” (ABC, p. 5).

II. The Book

Israel’s half-a-century long rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been the subject of extensive academic literature, also in international law. Yet, there had been no comprehensive, theoretically informed, and empirically based academic study of the role of various legal mechanisms, norms, and concepts in shaping, legitimizing, and responding to the Israeli control regime. The ABC of the OPT. A Legal Lexicon of the Israeli Control over the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the most timely and award-winning new book by Orna Ben-Naftali, Michael Sfard and Hedi Viterbo (Cambridge University Press 2018) fills this gap and offers a comprehensive and yet detailed study of law’s role in constructing and maintaining this protracted and highly institutionalized regime. Through the format of an A-Z legal lexicon, the book critically reflects on, challenges, and redefines the language, knowledge, and practices surrounding the Israeli control regime.

The book is structured in a lexicon format with 26 alphabetically ordered entries – only one for each letter of the alphabet. The choice of words selected for commentary is subversive. The gamut ranges from familiar legal terms such as “combatant”, “proportionality”, and “war crimes” to unsettling and disturbing ones such as “house demolition”, “quality of life: Putting the Gazans on diet”, and “X-rays: surveillance and profiling”.

As the authors explain in their introduction, while the title of their book invokes the commonly used term “OPT” (short for “The Occupied Palestinian Territory”), widely used in reference to the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Israel’s control, the book, in general, avoids reducing Israel’s rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip to “occupation” and oscillates between the concepts “occupation”, “control”, and “rule”, depending on the context under examination and the chosen analytical approach.

The ABC is first of all committed, engaged legal scholarship in its best sense. It takes the law of occupation seriously, treating it as authoritative, and criticizing it with legal, even legalist arguments, so to speak from “inside the legal universe”. But the ABC also espouses an external perspective by showing how the law of occupation is an epiphenomenon to power, both the product of relationships of domination and the precondition for sustaining them. The combination of both perspectives means, as Orna Ben Naftali writes in the introduction to the ABC, to pursue the “perhaps impossible yet imperative ideal of simultaneously conserving and destroying the law” (ABC, p. 21).

The ABC is a true work of critical legal studies to the extent that at its “heart” – as the authors write – is the analysis of “the role of law in structuring and sustaining the regime” (ABC, at p. 4). The second and related methodological feature is the “narrative” approach building on Robert Cover’s work on nomos. All entries seek to shed light on the narratives which locate the legal institutions and give them meaning.

The combination of an ingenious choice of keywords, solid legal technical craftsmanship, deep knowledge of the law as it stands, the critical spirit, and the embedding in narratives make the book a brilliant piece of scholarship. Unsurprisingly therefore, The ABC of the OPT has won much praise. It has been selected for a honourable mention in the category “Certificate of Merit in a specialized area of international law“ (2019) by the American Society of International Law’s Book Awards Committee and has also been included in the American Library Association’s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2018.

III. The Book Launch in Berlin

In November 2018, the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law ‘s Berlin Office and Recht im Kontext (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) hosted a Book Launch Conversation on The ABC of the OPT with Michael Lynk, Orna Ben Naftali, Charles Shamas, Yuval Shany and Hedi Viterbo. This symposium takes up a number of the questions and challenges that were discussed on that winter night in Berlin.

Why Berlin? That night, our panelist Charles Shamas (who took a rather sober stock of the role of international law in the conflict) asked the very direct question that might have been also on other participants’ minds.

It is Berlin where we currently witness a vibrant and wonderful revival of Jewish cultural life in Germany, with ever more Israelis moving to the city, among them many academics and intellectuals who have made the city their temporary home. And it is, of course, also Berlin where the impact and lasting legacy of the “negative symbiosis“ that both unites and divides Germans and Jews, a term first used by Hannah Arendt in a 1946 letter to Karl Jaspers, later taken up by Gershom Scholem, and by Dan Diner in his lead article in the first issue of the journal Babylon (1986), is ever present and can be intensely felt. As the historian Diner put it: “Since Auschwitz—what a sad twist—we can indeed speak of a ‘German-Jewish symbiosis’—admittedly a negative one: for both Germans and Jews, the aftermath of mass destruction has become the starting point for their respective self-conception; a kind of communality of opposites. For both Germans and Jews have been brought into a new relationship with each other through this event.”

With the renaissance of Jewish life in Germany in recent years, and generational shifts and transformations, this assessment might no longer be entirely true, as Katja Behrens has argued already in 2000. But the Holocaust was indeed a rupture in civilisation, a Zivilisationsbruch (Dan Diner) that ties us, as German international law scholars, in particular ways to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. And it prompts a responsibility to stand up against rising antisemitism as well as to cultivate and protect spaces for free and refined academic and political critique and discourse.

IV. The Epistemic Traditions and Entanglements

Although the lexicon (especially one as the ABC on the OPC, which cunningly chooses only one single word per letter) is not exactly the same genre as the more handbook-like and more complete encyclopedia, we would like to mention, as a historical footnote, that the outstanding Jewish encyclopedia of the interwar period, the German-language Encyclopaedia Judaica, was published in Berlin from 1928–1934. Planned to appear in 15 volumes, it remained incomplete (Encyclopaedia Judaica. Das Judentum in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 10 vols. [A–Lyra], Eshkol, Berlin 1928–1934; in Hebrew: Entsiklopedyah yisra’elit, 2 vols., Berlin/Jerusalem 1929–1932). Inspired by the groundbreaking encyclopedic projects of the 18th and 19th century, the great modern Jewish encyclopedias were – as Arndt Engelhardt has shown – important producers and repositories of knowledge, and at the same time instruments to foster collective self-understanding in times of crisis and transformation.

The ABC of the OPT, it should also be noted, has partly been written during Orna Ben Naftali’s research visit at the Institute in Heidelberg – where the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law seeks to fulfil similar functions. 

In earlier days of German (and French) legal scholarship, these functions were fulfilled by the many legal encyclopaediae of the 18th and 19th century, written and published in times of ever increasing legal fragmentations. This was an era in which, as Rainer Maria Kiesow writes in his lexicon-format Frankfurt habilitation thesis Das Alphabet des Rechts, completed at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History, almost every German law student had to attend a compulsory lecture “Juristische Enzyklopädie”.

To us, The ABC of the OPT is therefore also an inspiration to revisit, rediscover and revive such traditional, sometimes long-forgotten formats, and to explore new forms of legal writing and teaching.

V. The Blog Symposium

On Verfassungsblog, we open the symposium today with a contribution by Michael Lynk, Professor of Law at Western University, London, Ontario, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. Lynk deplores a marginalization of “the promise and power of the rule of law as a political and diplomatic touchstone when constructing the negotiation principles for the Oslo peace process” and strongly encourages a courageous re-engagement with international law. “This book reminds us that legal and political exceptionalism is an anathema to a secure and cooperative global society”, he stresses.

Yael Berda, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, argues, in her contribution, that “the format of the lexicon revives the colonial and imperial phantoms that have created international law“ and demonstrates how the use of the lexicon cuts through „the colonial political grammar of the occupation“, taking a closer look on two entries, the ones on “nomos” and on “military courts”.

Yuval Shany, Hersch Lauterpacht Chair in Public International Law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, observes that “[t]he book seems to downplay the fact that Israeli politicians, lawyers and judges have not adopted a uniform approach towards the laws of belligerent occupation. To the contrary, the laws of belligerent occupation remain a battleground for pursuing competing legal and political conceptions.”

Nadija Samour, a practising international criminal lawyer based in Berlin, finds in the volume “straight-forward analyses of Israeli policies in Palestine“. Yet, she critically states that “the most urgent task remains unaddressed: to provide an adequate legal framework that moves beyond international humanitarian law – and perhaps one that focuses on ending the occupation“.

A rejoinder by the authors, Orna Ben-Naftali, Michael Sfard, and Hedi Viterbo, shall conclude the symposium.

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