"The UN, the ICJ, and the Separation Barrier: War by Other Means"

Full Article

Steinberg, Gerald M. “The UN, the ICJ, the Separation Barrier: War by other Means.” Israel Law Review 38 (2005): 331-347.


This article compares the Hobbesian realist and Kantian idealist analyses of international law and organizations with respect to the UN General Assembly resolutions and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion on Israel’s separation barrier. From the realist perspective, this case highlights the exploitation of moral claims in support of a particularist political agenda. In contrast, the idealist approach interprets the advisory opinion and resolutions as important normative expressions in the developing global system of governance based on universal human rights principles and treaty obligations.

The analysis begins with a detailed comparison of the ideological and intellectual foundations of these core approaches to international law and organizations, the evolution of this debate in the post Cold War international system, and the impact on protracted ethno-national conflicts. This provides the basis for examining the impact of both schools in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The specific case of the UN and ICJ’s  involvement in the question of Israel’s separation barrier is then analyzed in detail from both the realist and idealist perspectives.

The implications of this debate are of major importance, not only with respect to the specific challenges posed by terrorism and the necessary responses, but also in the wider context of the crisis in the international system at the beginning of the 21st century. The analysis concludes by noting the degree to which this case illustrates a wider process in which international legal principles are manipulated in a manner that contributes to conflict and justification of violence, conforming to the realist interpretation. While still pursuing idealist objectives, wishful thinking cannot conceal the abuse of universalist claims of morality in the pursuit of war by other means.

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