A top State Department lawyer says only negotiations can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Palestinians inspect the rubble of a home hit by an Israeli airstrike targeting Rafah, southern Gaza, February 13, 2024. © AP / Fatima Shbair

The US government has told the UN’s top court that Israel should not be required to end its occupation of Palestinian territory, insisting that a withdrawal could threaten the country’s “security needs.”

During a hearing on Wednesday, State Department legal adviser Richard Visek urged the International Court of Justice (ICJ) not to rule against Israel’s military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, arguing that “unilateral actions” could not end the conflict.

“Any movement towards Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza requires consideration for Israel’s very real security needs,” Visek told the 15-judge panel.

US blocks third Gaza ceasefire push at UN US blocks third Gaza ceasefire push at UN

First requested in the UN General Assembly in 2022, the hearings are meant to clarify the legal status of the occupied territories, with dozens of countries set to outline their positions in the coming days. Israel has vowed to boycott the proceedings, arguing they failed to “recognize Israel’s right and duty to protect its citizens.”

Ahead of the US testimony, Russia’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Vladimir Tarabrin, argued that Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attack “cannot justify the collective punishment of more than 2 million Gazans.”

“We cannot accept the logic of those officials in Israel and some Western countries who try to defend the indiscriminate violence against civilians by referring to Israel’s duty to protect its nationals,” he said.

A legal aide for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, Jasmine Moussa, similarly condemned “Israel’s vicious wholesale destruction of Gaza,” as well as its ongoing “siege and blockade.”

Russia denounces Israel’s ‘inhumane plans’ for Gaza Russia denounces Israel’s ‘inhumane plans’ for Gaza

Israel first occupied the West Bank and Gaza following the Six-Day War in 1967. While Israeli forces have maintained a presence in the former territory ever since, officials ordered a pullout from Gaza in 2005. They imposed a tight blockade over the enclave, citing cross-border rocket attacks and other threats coming from Hamas.

Hamas’ raid into southern Israel last year left some 1,200 people dead and saw more than 250 taken hostage, prompting an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza and airstrikes on urban centers. According to local Hamas-run health officials, more than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed in the onslaught, while the UN has warned of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis with dire shortages of food, medicine and other key goods.

In a case brought by South Africa, the ICJ has also been asked to rule on whether Israel has committed “systematic” acts of genocide in Gaza. The judges have yet to hand down a final ruling, but issued an interim order urging Israel to take steps to prevent genocide. Israel has rejected the allegations as “absurd” and “unfounded,” arguing that it is acting in self-defense and that Hamas should ultimately be held responsible for the bloodshed in Gaza. (RT)