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Law is Politics

John Reynolds
Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine, by Noura Erakat, Stanford University Press, 352 pp, $30, ISBN: 978-0804798259 There is a sense among many people involved in advocacy and activism for Palestinian freedom that international law is unequivocally on the side of the Palestinians. The obstruction of that freedom is a problem of politics impeding law; of might trumping right. If only the law were applied to its letter, justice and equality would supplant occupation and apartheid. Would that it were so straightforward. In Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine, Palestinian-American scholar and advocate Noura Erakat eloquently shows that, yes, the Israeli state project has been consolidated and expanded on a platform of might making right since 1948 – but not only that. Israeli governments have also actively sought to craft legal justifications for the conquest and colonisation of territory, and to harness international law in their favour. They have been able to do this – successfully, in some instances – because the law cannot provide predetermined and definitive outcomes; it can only promise a contest over an outcome. Legal outcomes are ultimately determined in the historical and political contexts in which the law is being mobilised and applied. This is a contingent and fluid process; the law is continuously sculpted over time and reshaped from new vantage points as historical processes unfold or new protagonists emerge. Law, in other words, is politics. Erakat shows that this has been the case for international law in Palestine over the past century, back to before the creation of the Israeli state itself. She traces this story – against the shifting backdrops of colonial manoeuvring, Third World revolt and US empire-building – through key historical junctures over a hundred-year arc beginning in 1917. That year, the Balfour Declaration marked the onset of a series of “colonial erasures” of the Palestinian people. In that single but weighty sentence, the British government gave the promise of a Jewish national home in Palestine to the Zionist Federation. The Palestinians were reduced to “existing non-Jewish communities” who would be assured of civil rights protections but not necessarily any sovereignty or self-determination. International law and its institutions soon became complicit in the dispossession of the Palestinians – first by incorporating the Balfour Declaration into the League of Nations Mandate, and later with the United Nations proposing a partition of Palestine and recognising an Israeli…



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