Last month, a parliamentary petition was launched in the UK calling for sanctions against the Israeli regime, blocking all trade, especially the export of arms. The petition received more than 386,000 signatures, forcing the UK parliament to debate the matter. The UK government’s response has been clear: it has said it strongly opposes sanctions and boycotts against Israel, citing their “close relationship”.
In Ireland, the issue of sanctions against Israel was also raised in an amendment to a motion condemning the âde facto annexationâ of Palestinian land. Although the amendment was not adopted, the subject of sanctions was brought to the fore.
The momentum for the petition and amendment came from the strong public backlash against the escalating violence that the Israeli regime has inflicted on the Palestinians in recent months, including the Israeli regime’s latest bombing of Gaza in which more 256 Palestinians were killed. including 66 children.
Yet the call to sanction Israel has long been at the center of the Palestinian struggle. Indeed, it is a central pillar of the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement – launched in 2005 which calls on people to pressure governments to meet their obligations under international law to end the apartheid by imposing sanctions. These may include banning business with illegal Israeli settlements, ending free trade agreements, restricting military trade, and suspending Israel’s membership in international forums such as United Nations agencies. , sports federations, international cultural organizations and others.
International sanctions were imposed by the League of Nations over a century ago as a means of deterring aggression and war. Since then, they have been enshrined in the international legal regime as an appropriate and effective means for third countries to punish those who violate international law.
For example, sanctions, including an arms embargo, have been used against South Africa’s apartheid regime to help end its racist rule over the country. More recently, in 2014, the European Union adopted sanctions against Russia following its illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
But sanctions have also been used as a form of collective punishment. For example, the United States imposed an embargo on all trade with Cuba in 1962, three years after the Cuban Revolution toppled a pro-American government. This had a devastating effect on the Cuban economy and on the population as a whole.
Although sanctions continue to be misused, many still see them as a legitimate tool to tackle violations of international law.
As Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, recently told the UN Security Council: â[Sanctions] are a key instrument at our disposal to fight against violations of international law, the proliferation of weapons, curb the flow of weapons in war zones … to fight against human rights violations and target individuals who seek to undermine peace processesâ¦ They are designed to bring about changes in policy or activity.
According to Borrell’s logic, there is no reason why sanctions should not be imposed on the Israeli regime to hold it accountable for its numerous violations of international law. Yet the Israeli regime, which has been described as an apartheid regime by human rights organizations and is currently under investigation by the International Criminal Court for committing war crimes against the Palestinian people, did not face such sanctions.
Indeed, it is quite remarkable that even though all Israeli governments to date have violated Palestinian rights, Western countries which are otherwise quick to sanction those who violate international legal standards have not done so with Israel. Not only that, but the Israeli regime continues to enjoy full diplomatic and trade relations with most of the international community.
Israel continues to be part of media organizations such as Eurovision and EU research projects such as Horizon 2020. It also benefits from lucrative arms deals and financial support. The United States, Israel’s most generous backer, has provided some $ 146 billion in military and financial aid to date. European countries have also supported the Israeli military, supplying it with some 777 million euros ($ 927 million) in weapons between 2013 and 2017.
Clearly, the Israeli regime is not the pariah state it should be. Even the mere suggestion of sanctioning the Israeli regime arouses cries of exception and partiality towards it. Yet sanctions, as defined in international law, are a legitimate response to Israel’s continuing acts that undermine international law. Failure to use them against the Israeli regime makes a mockery of the international legal order and human rights.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.