Palestine has become the 164th state to ban antipersonnel landmines, another sign of the growing global stigma against these abhorrent weapons.
Despite the fact Palestine doesn’t possess these weapons, the move to join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty helps to further stigmatize landmines – especially today, when the use of these deadly weapons by non-state actors appears to be on the rise. The latest Landmine Monitor report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines reported a significant increase in civilian casualties from landmines, particularly victim-activated improvised explosive devices in the Middle East and North Africa. The increase reversed a long, downward trend in new casualties from landmines.
The treaty came into force in March 1999 and provides the framework necessary to create a mine-free world. The treaty imposes a ban on antipersonnel mines, and requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of mined areas, and assistance to victims of the weapons.
According to a voluntary report it provided in 2012, Palestine does not possess antipersonnel mines and has never produced these weapons. There have been no allegations of use of antipersonnel mines or mine-like devices by any Palestinian entity in recent years.
According to Landmine Monitor, there are at least 90 minefields in the West Bank: 13 were laid by the Jordanian military in 1948-1967 and the rest were laid by the Israeli military along the Jordan River after Israel occupied the West Bank following the 1967 war. Since 2014, the UK-based demining organization the HALO Trust has worked to clear West Bank minefields in cooperation with Palestinian and Israeli authorities.
Jordan joined the treaty two decades ago, while Israel and nine other states from the Middle East and North Africa have yet to do so: Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.
Israel rarely elaborates its position on the Mine Ban Treaty, but views antipersonnel mines as a legitimate means of defense. Yet it ceased production and imports of antipersonnel mines in the early 1980s and has observed a moratorium on all exports, sales, and transfers of these weapons since 1994. Since 2011, the Israeli government has been working to clear, “minefields not essential to Israel’s national security.”
If Israel and other non-signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty are serious about stopping non-state armed groups from using improvised landmines, these countries should lead by example and review their own policy and practice on landmines. Most critically, they should join the treaty, and become part of the solution rather than the problem.