-- Exclusive Interview --

Legal Advisor Daniel Taub:
'The International Court Is Trying Victims Of Terror And Not Terrorists'
'World Democracies Backed Israel's Position
That Hague Court Should Not Discuss Security Fence'

Broadcast February 27, 2004 on


David Essing: Weíre speaking now with Daniel Taub, a legal advisor at the Israel Foreign Ministry, who was in the Hague this week. Daniel, it seems as if there were almost two contests going on at the same time. One inside the courtroom and then also in the court of public opinion. What, first of all, letís start with what happened in the courtroom.Was it justified, was Israel justified in not going there, or did Israel lose by default?

Daniel Taub: Well, this, of course, is one of the tough questions that Israel had to ask itself. On the one hand, obviously, we have a lot of things to say to the Court. On the other hand, we didnít want to give legitimacy to a proceeding that, from where we stood, looked like it was trying to put people, defending themselves from terrorism, on trial, but not the terrorist themselves. At the end of the day, we decided that the question that was asked was so biased that we really didnít want to play along, and when we look back and we see the sort of states who did join in, it seems that we made the right decision. There were no European States, there were no member states of the Quartet there. Pretty much every democratic state in the world took one look at the proceeding and decided they didnít want to be a part of it. Which left us in the courtroom with really a bunch of states, the vast majority of them were not democratic. Only in fact twelve states out of a hundred and ninety one member of the United Nations, including such champions of human rights as Sudan and Saudi Arabia and Cuba. So, I think, in looking back, we were probably right not to participate in the hearing.

David Essing: Well one other point, also, is the actual president of the Court, I believe, was Chinese. And no one, I think, would consider raising the question of Tibet. There was a Russian judge there also, and no one would raise the question of Chechnya, of course, and there were two Arab judges, as well. So what kind ofÖdo you have any expectations that Israel is going to get any kind of fair hearing, although it didnít appear in the courtroom itself.

Daniel Taub: Well, what international lawyers tell us, of course, is that this is an independent court and these judges are selected on the basis of their legal expertise, and are supposed to be not guided by the policies of their own countries. Weíre taking a Ďwait and seeí approach on that, but what we hope is that the Court will realize that this is a politically motivated question that, as you say, there is something unacceptable in the fact that Israel is being dragged to the Court to have an issue in relation to it heard before the court when we know that there are extremely severe issues in other areas of the world that could never come before the Court. Thatís why weíre hopeful that the Court will come to the conclusion that this isnít something that it would be helpful for them to become involved in. And, in fact, thatís something that the majority of states that made recent submissions to the Court along side Israel urged the Court to recognize this wasnít an appropriate case for them to get involved with.

David Essing: Well, the fact that the U.S., Canada, Australia, Britain, the European countries, the European democracies were not there, do you think that thereís a chance that this might have seeped down to the judges themselves and make them realize that if they go through with this kind of biased hearing against Israel that this is going to, might destroy the International Court of Justice?

Daniel Taub: Well, we certainly do hope that point will come across and weíve tried to make it in our written submission, we made that point quite clearly. We think this is a damaging proceeding, as you say, for the standing of the International Court. But more than that the point that weíve made, itís damaging for any prospects for peace between us and the Palestinians. We have a plan, an agreed plan for moving forward on all issues. Itís called the ĎRoadmapí. Itís not perfect but itís the only game in town. The first line of that Roadmap says that the Palestinians have to take action immediately against terrorism. To allow them to sneak out the back door, as it were, and to take just those issues that they like and bring them to the International Court, doesnít bode well for the chances of sitting down and solving our problems through negotiations.

David Essing: Well, letís go outside the courtroom now into what I would call the court of public opinion in the streets of The Hague. How do you think Israel came out of that? There was massive media coverage of this all around the world. Do you think that Israel did get its case across?

Daniel Taub: I have to say, since I spent most of my time either in the court room or speaking to lawyers and journalists, I canít testify as to what was happening on the street. But I think, the impression that I got, both in the Press and speaking to people, was that there was a tremendous wave of understanding for people from Israel and for Jewish people and supporters of Israel from Europe that came along to express their dismay at the fact that the Court was trying to deal with a state thatís defending itself against terrorism, and not addressing the terrorists themselves. There was talking about Palestinian hardship, but there wasnít any attention given to the Israeli victims of terrorism. There was a focus on Palestinian quality of life, but not on the right to life of Israelis. And I think thatís something that did come across very clearly.

David Essing: One thing that struck me was that by not appearing in the court room and making legal points, on the other hand the media concentrated on the emotional aspect of whatís been happening with this terrorism and seeing the relatives of the victims and so forth, so do you think that it might of, this might have been, actually very good from Israelís point of view that Israel didnít appear so the media focused on the people involved, the victims?

Daniel Taub: Once again, I wasnít involved in the media strategy and our concern as far as the Court was concerned was actually primarily a legal concern. We think that there are legal problems with this particular referral to the Court. We think that the original resolutions in the United Nations are extremely problematic. We think that dealing with this issue before the Court is problematic and, as I say, I think for the future of our relations with the Palestinians we think that it could be very damaging.

David Essing: Well, one key point has been the route of the fence and the criticism of Israel for cutting into parts of the West Bank. And I might add that I think that one fact thatís not very well known is that only 12% of the West Bank territory is involved when it comes to the route itself. How did you answer this kind of criticism of the route?

Daniel Taub: Well, once again, this is not something that weíve been answering to the Court. One of the things weíre saying to the Court is they simply donít have the facts at their disposal in order to make these assessments. But in the broader context we say that the idea of this fence is not to take Palestinian land, itís not to establish a border, itís simply to protect the lives of Israelis. We know that the Palestinian terrorists make absolutely no distinction between Israelis and Jews on one side of the border, on one side of the line, or the other. And so if we can, by including certain Israeli towns and villages within the fence, manage to save lives, where we could do that without disproportionate hardship to the Palestinians, thatís completely legitimate. A fence along the Green Line would simply not work. It goes through villages, it goes through valleys where thereís high ground on either side. So even for topographical reasons, thereís points where the fence doesnít just jut into the West Bank, it juts into Israel as well. Weíre trying to save lives, weíre putting the fence at the place where itíll best do that, and as we said again and again, the moment the Palestinians come through with what theyíve promised to do again and again, then there wonít be a need for a fence, and we can move it or remove it in accordance with any agreement we reach with the Palestinians.

David Essing: Mr. Taub, what do you think is going to happen now, in your point of view, if it does go back to the U.N. General Assembly, is this going to be part of what some people think is the beginning of an international campaign, or perhaps itís already started, to try and delegitimize Israel as a independent sovereign state?

Daniel Taub: I think youíre absolutely right when you say itís already started, we have seen a concerted political campaign spearheaded by the Arab States to delegitimize Israel. If you think about it, it started in the political organs of the United Nations with resolutions like ĎZionism is Racismí. It moved on to the humanitarian organs of the United Nations, as we saw most dramatically at the Durbin conference a couple of years ago. And now thereís an attempt to move it into the judicial organs of the United Nations and that would be terribly tragic, because as we said, the judicial organs, they have the greatest standing of any of them, itís the most important that they be impartial. And if they become politicized they really wonít be effective. But the bottom line is that as far as we and the Palestinians are concerned, persuading the Palestinians to come away from the negotiating table and trying to use these institutions as a tool against Israel, simply isnít going to help us move forward and isnít going to bring any benefits, not to the leaders, but to the people of either side.

David Essing: Daniel Taub, thank you very much, sir, for talking with us today.

Daniel Taub: Itís a pleasure, David.

David Essing, Israel Hotline, Jerusalem

Transcription done by Talia Adar

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