Time to get real on campus


What a new school year this is turning out to be.

Milan Chatterjee, the former Graduate Student Association president at UCLA, will be finishing his last year of law school at New York University, driven from his West Coast campus by what he calls a “hostile and unsafe campus environment.” In a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Chatterjee, a Hindu Indian-American, wrote, “Since November 2015 I have been relentlessly attacked, bullied and harassed by [anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions]-affiliated organizations and students.”

A Jewish student activist at Brown University, Benjamin Gladstone, complains that on his campus Jewish students and their organizations have been prevented from working in coalitions because of their association with Israel – real or imagined. In one notorious case last year, LGBTQ activist Janet Mock canceled her appearance at Brown after an online petition opposed the lecture because it was sponsored, in part, by Hillel, the Jewish campus group – even though the event had nothing to do with Israel.

And north of the border, Molly Harris, a rising junior at McGill University, reports that “many of my liberal peers, with whom I share so much common ground, have actively excluded Jewish students from their social-justice organizations” because of their association with Israel. She complains about frequent harassment of Jewish students and offers this chilling warning to incoming freshmen everywhere: “If you’re Jewish, you should probably also prepare yourself for the various forms of anti-Israel sentiment, and maybe even anti-Semitism.”

Never mind the debate about “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” – on many campuses one’s position on Israel has become a litmus test for acceptability. If you are on the wrong side of the issue – or thought to be — the campus can be a hostile place.

The Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) reports that in 2015-2016, 185 campuses experienced 1,437 anti-Israel events, a 12-percent drop from the previous year. While Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaigns declined by 25 percent, from 44 to 33, there was an increase in “other forms of activism, such as attention-getting, visceral displays of anti-Israel sentiment. Campuses also saw a surge in disrup­tions of Israel-related events, during which anti-Israel activists attempted to silence lecturers and guest speakers.” 

These tactics undermine the civility that is essential to the free exchange of ideas. In the service of creating a better, more peaceful world — starting with Israelis and Palestinians — anti-Israel groups are fostering campuses that alienate rather than unite. And, ironically, it is out of step with the Middle East today.

Israel is increasingly accepted across the Middle East, from Saudi Arabia to Morocco.  Arab contacts with Israel, far from being a recent development, actually have a very long if bumpy history. Today, economic ties are growing while security and intelligence cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian, and other Arab officials has become almost routine. In the face of nihilism and radical Islamism, Arab leaders are making common cause with Israel. Rather than seeking messianic prescriptions for peace, these Middle East realists are finding ways to cooperate to provide their people with stability and security in a region where misery, chaos, and brutality are commonplace.

Anti-Israel advocates on campus are taking a different approach. Rather than finding ways to work with pro-Israel students to improve the region — from the humanitarian disaster of Syria to the ravages of ISIS to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – their tactics are alienating one important partner that cares deeply about the Middle East while  turning off the majority of students who are indifferent to the plight of the region. At a time when American leadership is critically needed, a united student voice could send a powerful message to Washington, especially during a presidential transition year. Alas.

Instead, the generation now in college is witness to a microcosm of Middle East dysfunction in their own quads. These young Americans will only become more disenchanted by the Middle East. America will grow more distant from the region. No Middle Easterner will sleep better at night.

Students who truly want to help the Middle East should embrace the approach of a growing number of Arab and Israeli leaders: Muster the courage to overcome ideological divides and find practical, realistic avenues of cooperation. If they can’t make peace on campus, they won’t succeed in the Middle East.


David Pollock is the Kaufman Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near Policy and the editor of its Fikra Forum blog. Jeff Rubin is the Institute’s director of communications.

Palestinians submit first case material against Israel to Hague court


The Palestinian Authority made its first submission of evidence of alleged Israeli war crimes to the International Criminal Court on Thursday, trying to speed up an ICC inquiry into abuses committed during last year's Gaza conflict.

The move may leave Israel in a quandary since it must decide whether to cooperate with the ICC investigation or find itself isolated as one of a very few countries that have declined to work with its prosecutors.

Israel denies allegations of war crimes by its forces during the 2014 Gaza war and accuses Islamist militants who control the Gaza Strip of atrocities in firing thousands of rockets at Israeli population centers.

Standing outside the ICC after meeting the court's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said he had submitted dossiers on the Gaza conflict, Israeli settlements on land where Palestinians seek a state, and treatment of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

“Palestine is a test for the credibility of international mechanisms … a test the world cannot afford to fail. Palestine has decided to seek justice, not vengeance,” Maliki said.

A ceasefire in August ended 50 days of fighting between Gaza militants and Israel in which health officials said more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

U.N. investigators said on Monday that Israel and Palestinian militant groups committed grave abuses of international humanitarian law during the conflict that may amount to war crimes.

The Hague-based ICC, with no police force or enforcement powers of its own, is looking into alleged crimes by both sides of the conflict but cannot compel Israel to give it information.

PRELIMINARY ICC INQUIRY UNDER WAY

The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, joined the court in April and Bensouda has opened a preliminary investigation related to Gaza.

But Israel has substantial leverage over the course of ICC inquiries since court officials can only access sites of alleged atrocities in Gaza and Israeli settlements in the West Bank via Israel's airports.

Maliki said he had agreed with prosecutors on a date for them to visit Palestinian territories, but did not say when. “It depends on their ability to enter Palestinian territory without problems,” he said. ICC prosecutors told Reuters earlier they aimed to make field trips to both the Palestinian and Israeli sides but had not yet sought formal Israeli permission.

Israel disputed the U.N. report on possible war crimes, saying its forces had upheld the “highest international standards”. Gaza's dominant Hamas group ignored the accusations against it and called for prosecutions of Israeli leaders.

As a non-member of the ICC, Israel is under no obligation to cooperate, regardless of international pressure to do so. But a boycott of prosecutors could put Israel in awkward company.

Even Russia, a foe of the ICC, has met court prosecutors related to their inquiry into alleged crimes in Russia's 2008 war with Georgia and over the events leading up to the 2014 overthrow of Ukraine's pro-Russian president.

Israel has been an outspoken critic of the ICC, saying the Palestinian Authority is not a state and should never have been admitted as an ICC member.

Israel also argues that the ICC inquiry will make it harder to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians. Talks on a Palestinian state in territory Israel captured in the 1967 war collapsed last year and there is no prospect of reviving them.

U.N. report: Israel, Palestinians may have committed war crimes in Gaza


U.N. investigators said on Monday that Israel and Palestinian militant groups committed grave abuses of international humanitarian law during the 2014 Gaza conflict that may amount to war crimes.

They called on all sides to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has opened a separate preliminary investigation. The Palestinian Authority is expected to make its first formal submission to the Hague-based court this week.

“The most that we can hope for out of this long and arduous process of inquiry is that we will push the ball of justice a little further down the field,” Mary McGowan Davis, chairwoman of the U.N. commission of inquiry, told a news conference.

A ceasefire last August ended 50 days of fighting between Gaza militants and Israel in which health officials said more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

Israeli air strikes and shelling hammered the densely-populated Gaza Strip dominated by the Islamist Hamas movement, causing widespread destruction of homes and schools.

Hamas and other militant groups launched thousands of rockets and mortar bombs out of the enclave into Israel.

“The (U.N.) commission was able to gather substantial information pointing to serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by Israel and by Palestinian armed groups. In some cases, these violations may amount to war crimes,” the independent investigators said in a report issued on Monday following a year-long inquiry.

The investigators called on Israel to carry out credible domestic investigations of senior political and military officials, if crimes were substantiated.

They called on Israel to explain its “targeting decisions” to allow independent assessment of its attacks on Gaza Strip which they said had killed 1,462 civilians.

“The commission is concerned that impunity prevails across the board for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law allegedly committed by Israeli forces…” it said.

The report said Israel should break with its “recent lamentable track record in holding wrongdoers responsible”.

ISRAEL DISPUTES ACCUSATIONS, HAMAS IGNORES THEM

Israel disputed the findings, saying its forces acted “according to the highest international standards”. The Foreign Ministry said the report regrettably failed to “recognize the profound difference between Israel's moral behavior … and the terror organizations it confronted” in the war.

Israel previously dismissed the inquiry as inherently biased against it and a waste of time.

The independent investigators also condemned what they said had been executions of 21 alleged Palestinian “collaborators” with Israel by militants in Gaza, saying these killings appeared to constitute war crimes.

The report further said Palestinian armed groups had fired nearly 5,000 rockets and 1,750 mortar bombs, many toward major Israeli cities and towns. It cited “the inherently indiscriminate nature of most of the projectiles launched into Israel and (of) the targeting of civilians, which violate international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime”.

The investigators were denied access to Gaza and Israel but based their report on more than 280 interviews with victims and witnesses, as well as 500 written submissions.

The report said Israeli political and military leaders did not alter their actions in the war despite much evidence of lethal devastation in built-up Gaza neighborhoods and this raised questions about potential war crimes.

Hamas, in a statement posted on its website, called for prosecuting Israeli leaders but ignored accusations against it.

“Hamas welcomes the condemnation of the Zionist occupation stated in the U.N. report because of its (Israel's) aggression against Gaza and Israel's commission of war crimes. This requires bringing leaders of the occupation before the International Criminal Court. The world must put an end to the occupation's crimes against our people and against Gaza.”

Hamas previously denied wrongdoing, saying it fought Israel to protect the Palestinian people in Gaza. The enclave has been under Israeli blockade for years and the two sides have waged two other wars since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.

Israel disputes U.N. report finding it may have committed Gaza war crimes


Israel disputed on Monday the findings of a U.N. report that it may have committed war crimes in the 2014 Gaza conflict, saying its forces acted “according to the highest international standards”.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas, the dominant Palestinian movement in the Gaza Strip, which the report said might bear responsibility for war crimes that included “indiscriminate” firing of rockets at Israeli towns.

“It is regrettable that the report fails to recognize the profound difference between Israel's moral behavior during Operation Protective Edge and the terror organizations it confronted,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement, referring to the 50-day Gaza war last July and August.

“In defending itself against attacks, Israel's military acted according to the highest international standards.”

Saeb Erekat, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement: “The State of Palestine will review the findings and recommendations of the (U.N.) commission with the highest consideration, in line with its staunch commitment to ensuring respect for these esteemed bodies of international law.”

Echoing previous Israeli statements during the year-long U.N. inquiry, the foreign ministry said the report by the U.N. Human Rights Council was commissioned by “a notoriously biased institution” that has a “singular obsession” with Israel.

Citing such alleged bias and what it called a lack of the necessary expertise to conduct a professional and serious examination of an armed conflict, the ministry said Israel would consider the report “in light of these essential failings”.

Palestinian Authority officially joins International Criminal Court


The Palestinian Authority officially became a member of the International Criminal Court.

A ceremony was held at the Geneva court on Wednesday to mark the P.A.’s ascension.

P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas signed the requests to join the ICC and other international conventions at the end of December after the United Nations Security Council failed to pass a Palestinian statehood proposal. Israel retaliated by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in tax payments it had collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Last week, Israel announced that it would send the tax payments to the P.A.

In a statement at the ceremony, Sidiki Kaba, president of the Assembly of States Parties, said he hoped the accession of “Palestine,” the second state from the Middle East, “will pave the way for other countries in the Middle East who, by adopting the Rome Statute, will strengthen the International Criminal Court in its fight against impunity for mass crimes.” The Rome Statute is the treaty that established the ICC.

In January, ICC prosecutors opened a preliminary inquiry into possible war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank. The prosecutors will determine whether preliminary findings merit a full investigation into alleged atrocities and possible charges against Palestinian and/or Israeli officials.

P.A. Foreign Minister Riad Malki, who met with ICC officials on Wednesday in what were characterized as ceremonial talks, cautioned in an interview on Palestinian radio that “ICC procedures are slow and long and might face lots of obstacles and challenges and might take years.”

Kerry warns on viability of Palestinian Authority if Israel blocks funds


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday expressed concern about the viability of the Palestinian Authority if it does not soon receive tax revenue which has been withheld by Israel.

The funds have been held back from the Authority since last month in retaliation for Palestinian moves to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The move would pave the way for the ICC to take jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed in Palestinian lands and to investigate the conduct of Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

While the United States opposed steps by the Palestinians to join the ICC, it has raised concerns with the Israelis about its decision to freeze the transfer of more than $100 million in tax revenue, warning it could further raise tensions.

The tax revenue is critical to running the Authority, which exercises limited self-rule, and for paying public sector salaries. Israel took a similar step in December 2012, freezing revenue transfers for three months in response to the Palestinians' launch of a campaign for recognition of statehood at the United Nations.

The issue of funding for the aid-dependent Palestinians was raised in talks between Kerry and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in London. Kerry warned of another crisis in the region if the Palestinians did not receive funding.

“If the Palestinian Authority ceases, or were to cease security cooperation, or even decide to disband as a result of their economic predicament, and that could happen in the future if they don't receive additional revenues, then we would be faced by yet another crisis,” Kerry told a news conference.

“We are working hard to prevent that from happening and that is why we have been reaching out to key stakeholders to express these concerns and also to try to work together to find a solution to this challenge,” he said, without elaborating.

The World Bank warned last year that war in Gaza would contribute to a reversal of seven years of growth in the Palestinian economy.

What does the International Criminal Court action mean for Israel?


On Jan. 16, the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, launched a “preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine.”

Here is a review of what that means based on interviews with experts on international law and statements by the ICC and Israeli and U.S. officials.

Has the International Criminal Court launched a criminal case against Israel or Israeli officials?

No.

On Jan. 16, Bensouda said she was opening a “preliminary examination” into events that transpired in the period following June 13, 2014.

Bensouda, who is Gambian, did not specify that she would examine military actions, but the period encompasses last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip as well as Israel’s actions in the West Bank following the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers on June 12.

Preliminary examinations are not criminal investigations, though they may consider evidence and solicit testimony. Instead, they establish whether there is probable cause to conduct a full criminal investigation and whether the court has jurisdiction. They may be followed by criminal investigations of individuals. Cases involving states are the province of the International Court of Justice. Both courts are based in The Hague, Netherlands.

Preliminary examinations may be closed without charges filed. Indeed, the court shut down an earlier preliminary examination arising out of the 2009 Gaza War, determining that it did not have jurisdiction, in part because Palestine at the time did not have statehood status.

Preliminary examinations can go on for years. In addition to the one just launched, eight others are underway that have neither been closed nor advanced to the criminal investigation stage. Some date back to 2006.

One hurdle for the Palestinians seems to have been cleared in this case, however. In her announcement, Bensouda said that the U.N. General Assembly recognition of Palestine in 2012 as a non-member observer state, together with the Palestinian accession to the ICC treaty, made crimes that may have been committed on its territory eligible for consideration by the court.

Does the launching of the preliminary examination trigger U.S. sanctions against the Palestinians or the United Nations?

Not yet against the Palestinians and not at all against the United Nations.

The ICC is independent of the United Nations, so American laws triggering sanctions against U.N. agencies for accepting Palestinian statehood status would not apply. Like Israel, the United States never acceded to the 1998 treaty that led to the court’s establishment and has little influence over it.

However, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, does hold some sway over the court by determining whether applicants qualify to accede to the ICC. In Palestine’s case, he gave the green light on Jan. 6. It’s not clear whether U.S. officials have conveyed to Ban any unhappiness over his role in the matter.

Regarding the Palestinians, language inserted at the last minute into an omnibus spending bill passed in the final days of the last Congress says funding cuts would be triggered if “the Palestinians initiate an International Criminal Court judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.”

The wording suggests that the approximately $500 million in annual U.S. assistance to the Palestinians is safe for now — first because the proceedings may be years away from a “judicially authorized investigation,” and second because the prosecutor, not the Palestinians, appears to have initiated the proceedings.

Congress seems ready to close those loopholes, however. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced legislation on the first day of the new Congress that would sever assistance to the Palestinian Authority unless it withdraws from the ICC. Other lawmakers, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), have hinted that they are considering similar legislation.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has yet to back any specific legislation, but an official for the lobby told JTA that it believes that P.A. funding should be “immediately suspended” because of its ICC moves.

Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law and an expert on international law who has blogged about the issue for the Washington Post, says there may be legal room to pull U.S. funding for the Palestinians. Palestinian acceptance of the ICC’s jurisdiction in Palestinian areas after June 13, 2014, which set the stage for the preliminary examination, might in itself be construed as “initiating” an investigation, he told JTA.

The Obama administration does not accept that reading. Its officials are resisting calls from Congress to cut funding to the Palestinians, in part because they see Palestinian security cooperation with Israel — which is funded in part by the United States — as a critical element in keeping the region quiet.

What is Israel’s position on the ICC examination?

Israel rejects the jurisdiction of the court. It has cut off a monthly $125 million tax transfer to the Palestinians, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman this week is lobbying countries that support the ICC to end funding, including Germany, Canada, Australia and Japan. Experts say his effort is likely to be unsuccessful, particularly with Germany, which invested heavily in the court’s establishment following the atrocities committed in the 1990 Yugoslav wars.

What is the Obama administration’s position on the ICC examination?

The Obama administration strongly rejects ICC jurisdiction in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. “As we have said repeatedly, we do not believe that Palestine is a state and therefore we do not believe that it is eligible to join the ICC,” the State Department said in a Jan. 16 statement. “It is a tragic irony that Israel, which has withstood thousands of terrorist rockets fired at its civilians and its neighborhoods, is now being scrutinized by the ICC.”

However, administration officials also oppose cutting funding to the Palestinians, and the State Department has criticized Israel for withholding the tax transfers.

Are Palestinian officials also potentially liable for criminal investigation?

Yes. Bensouda’s brief is open-ended. The “situation in Palestine” it describes could encompass rockets launched from Gaza into civilian areas of Israel.

What risk do Israeli officials face?

Should the examination advance to a criminal investigation, Israeli officials could face warrants for their arrest. This could limit their travel, although in its short existence, a de facto hierarchy of ICC-wanted officials has emerged. Charged officials with few allies in the international community — for instance, Congolese rebel leaders — have been arrested. Charged officials who do have allies — most prominently, much of theSudanese leadership — have traveled with impunity, as friendly nations have refused to act on warrants.

The folly of partition: ICC ruling seals fate of Gaza residents


The International Criminal Court's (ICC) announcement that it would pursue a war crimes probe against Israel over the summer war in Gaza is but the latest twist in the quixotic quest to end the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Israel’s 2005 de-facto partition via unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip set the spark that lit the flame that led to Operation Protective Edge, for which the government of Israel is to be investigated for by the ICC. 

One can make the argument that the presence of 8,000 Jewish men, women and children who lived in Gaza until the 2005 withdrawal did not contribute to a peaceful resolution between Israel and her neighbors. However, during the occupation no rockets were hurled from Jewish kindergartens at Arab homes; no tunnels were dug with the intention of executing acts of mass murder and no Jewish men, women or children were kept in Gaza against their will.

Since the partition, meant to facilitate Arab self-government, Hamas has created a terrorist caliphate that rules at the expense of 1.7 million Arabs in Gaza.

Hamas-ruled Gaza is defined by corruption, stagnant economic growth, rampant poverty, high unemployment, high illiteracy rates, high mortality rates, suppression of the press, as well as discriminatory policies against women, gays and other minorities.  

Moreover, billions of dollars in foreign aid meant to build infrastructure for Gaza residents (roads, power grids, schools, sewage, transit, etc.) have been siphoned off by local oligarchs to build villas, pad foreign bank accounts and transform the Strip into one giant forward base of operations for an ongoing war of extermination against Israel.

The ICC may want to take account in building its case against Israel that the country it intends to prosecute for war crimes created the overwhelming majority of existing infrastructure in Gaza.

The International Criminal Court's decision effectively rejects a century of Jewish reconciliation efforts: acceptance of partition, failure to annex and populate the West Bank and the recognition of a new independent Arab entity in areas known until very recently as Judea and Samaria.

Tragically, partition has served the interests of neither Israelis nor Gazans. Quite the contrary, it has both condemned nearly two million people to a fate worse than death on one side and placed nearly eight million people within range of rocket fire on the other.

Israel, a vibrant, thriving – if wildly imperfect – exercise in Middle East democracy, will weather the tempest in a teapot being kicked up by a pack of lawyers in The Hague.

However, this is a dark day for those forsaken men, women and children living under Hamas's jackboot of hate and terror.

The ICC, by delegitimizing one sovereign nation's right to defend itself, has granted the Islamist Jihadists cover to commit acts of exceptional barbarity inside the Gaza Strip – and unleash another wave of violence against Israel and its allies in the near future.

Initial ICC probe opened into ‘war crimes’ in Palestinian territories


Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court will open a preliminary inquiry into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories, the court said.

The move, announced by a spokesperson of the court on Friday and reported by Reuters, is the first formal step that could lead to charges against Palestinian or Israeli officials.

Prosecutors from the ICC, a United Nations tribunal which is based in The Hague, will determine whether preliminary findings merit a full investigation into alleged atrocities which could result in charges against individuals on either the Israeli or Palestinian side.

The move follows the signing last month by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of a treaty that may allow the investigation of Israel for war crimes at the International Criminal Court, but which may expose Palesitnian officials to countersuits.

Israel has threatened to go after the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which Israel says may both be complicit in war crimes.

The United States has condemned Abbas’ decision to join the treaty that extends ICC jurisdiction to the Palestinian territories.

“We are deeply troubled by today’s Palestinian action regarding the ICC. It is an escalatory step that will not achieve any of the outcomes most Palestinians have long hoped to see for their people,” Jeff Rathke, a State Department spokesman, said last month.

 

U.N. head sets date for Palestinian membership in ICC


United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that Palestine will join the International Criminal Court on April 1.

The accession to the court will allow the Palestinians to press war-crimes charges against Israel.

Ban made the announcement late Tuesday night, days after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed the Rome Statute, the international treaty under which the signatories accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, the international war crimes tribunal.

Ban also approved the Palestinian’s membership in 16 other international treaties, conventions and agreements.

The Palestinians also filed an ad hoc declaration for the ICC to investigate Israel for war crimes as of June 13. The date is one day after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens by Palestinians from Hebron. The massive operation to find the teens and Israel’s 50-day military operation in Gaza over the summer would be covered under the retroactive date.

The declaration would start proceedings against Israel even as the Palestinians wait for the April 1 accession date, becoming the court’s 123rd member state. Israel is not a member of the court.

An ICC investigation could also lead to war crimes charges against the Palestinians.

The Palestinian’s move to join the ICC and other international treaties came after the United Nations Security Council late last month failed to pass a Palestinian statehood proposal.

In response, Israel froze some $125 million in tax revenue that it collects for the Palestinian Authority.

 

U.N. confirms Palestinians will be ICC member on April 1


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has confirmed the Palestinians will formally become a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 1 and the court's registrar said on Wednesday that jurisdiction would date back to June 13, 2014.

This means the court's prosecutor could investigate the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in July and August 2014, during which more than 2,100 Palestinians, 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed.

The Hague-based court handles war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It could exercise jurisdiction over such crimes committed by anyone on Palestinian territory. Israel, like the United States, is not a an ICC member, but its citizens could be tried on accusations of crimes on Palestinian land.

On Friday the Palestinians delivered to U.N. headquarters documents to join the Rome Statute of the ICC and other international treaties, in a move that has heightened tensions with Israel and could lead to cuts in U.S. aid.

Ban announced in a letter posted to a U.N. website late on Tuesday that the Palestinians would formally become an ICC member on April 1. The United Nations is the official depositary of the Rome Statute and many other treaties.

The United States said on Wednesday it does not believe Palestine is a sovereign state and therefore does not qualify to be part of the International Criminal Court.

Experts said the only apparent way to challenge the Palestinians' eligibility to be an ICC member would be in court.

“The most likely challenge would be if an Israeli national ever came before the court,” said Dov Jacobs, a law professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

“A defense lawyer could try to challenge the case's legality by arguing to judges that Palestine was not a state,” he said. Few scholars say that such an argument would be successful.

The Palestinian government signed the Rome Statute on Dec. 31, a day after a bid for independence by 2017 failed at the U.N. Security Council.

The Palestinians, who have been locked in a bloody conflict with Israel for decades, seek a state that covers Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – lands Israel captured in a 1967 war.

Momentum to recognize a Palestinian state has built since President Mahmoud Abbas succeeded in a bid for de facto recognition of statehood at the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, making Palestinians eligible to join the ICC.

Israel withholds funds, weighs lawsuits against Palestinians


Israel will withhold critical tax revenue and seek ways to bring war crimes prosecutions against Palestinian leaders in retaliation for Palestinian moves to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), Israeli officials said on Saturday.

On Friday, the Palestinians delivered documents to U.N. headquarters in New York on joining the Rome Statute of the ICC in The Hague and other global treaties with the aim of prosecuting Israelis for what they consider war crimes committed on their territory.

In a first punitive response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided in consultation with senior ministers on Thursday to withhold the next monthly transfer of tax revenue, totaling some 500 million shekels ($125 million), an Israeli official said on Saturday.

The ICC was set up to try war crimes and crimes against humanity such as genocide. Israel and the United States object to unilateral approaches by the Palestinians to world bodies, saying they undermine prospects for negotiating a peaceful settlement of the decades-old Middle East conflict.

The tax revenues are critical to running the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule, and paying public sector salaries. Israel took a similar step in December 2012, freezing revenue transfers for three months in anger at the Palestinians' launch of a campaign for recognition of statehood at the United Nations.

“This is highway robbery. Not only is this illegal, they are adding money theft to land theft. The revenues belong to the Palestinian people, they go to pay salaries and support oureconomy. Israel has no business deciding to steal our funds,” senior Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi told Reuters.

Under interim peace deals from the 1990s, Israel collects at least $100 million a month in duties on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

“LARGE-SCALE PROSECUTION”

In addition to the revenue freeze, an Israeli official said Israel was “weighing the possibilities for large-scale prosecution in the United States and elsewhere” of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior Palestinian officials.

Israel would probably press these cases via non-governmental groups and pro-Israel legal organizations capable of filing lawsuits abroad, a second Israeli official said.

Israel sees the heads of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank as collaborators with the Islamist militant group Hamas, which dominates Gaza, because of a unity deal they forged in April, the officials said.

Netanyahu had previously warned that unilateral moves by the Palestinian Authority at theUnited Nations would expose its leaders to prosecution over support for Hamas, viewed by Israel and much of the West as a terrorist organization.

Hamas “commits war crimes, shooting at civilians from civilian-populated areas”, one official said, referring to the war in Gaza last summer in which more than 2,100 Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis died.

Palestinians seek a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.

Momentum to recognize a Palestinian state has been building since Abbas succeeded in a bid for de facto recognition at the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, which made Palestinians eligible to join the ICC.

Abbas opted to join the ICC after losing a motion last week in the U.N. Security Council to set a 2017 deadline for a Palestinian state to be established in land captured by Israel.

The United States, Israel's main ally, supports an eventual independent Palestinian state, but has argued against unilateral moves like Friday's, saying they could damage the peace process.

Washington sends about $400 million in economic support to the Palestinians every year. Under U.S. law, that aid would be cut off if the Palestinians used membership of the ICC to press claims against Israel.

Palestinians deliver to U.N. documents to join war crimes court


In a move certain to anger Israel and Washington, the Palestinians on Friday delivered to U.N. headquarters documents on joining the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and more than a dozen other international treaties.

The chief Palestinian observer, Riyad Mansour, and U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed the handover at the United Nations. It is a step that will likely further exacerbate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians and could lead to reductions in U.S. aid or U.S. sanctions.

“This is a very significant step,” Mansour told reporters. “It is an option that we are seeking in order to seek justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power.”

The U.N. press office issued a statement saying the Palestinians had delivered documentation to join 16 international treaties. “The documents are being reviewed with a view to determining the appropriate next steps,” it said.

According to the Rome Statute, the Palestinians will become a party to the court on the first day of the month that follows a 60-day waiting period after depositing signed and ratified documents of accession with the United Nations in New York.

The ICC move paves the way for the court to take jurisdiction over crimes committed in Palestinian lands and investigate the conduct of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders over more than a decade of bloody conflict. Neither Israel nor the United States belongs to the ICC.

Mansour said the Palestinians have also formally requested retroactive ICC jurisdiction “with regard to the crimes committed during the last war in Gaza.” He was referring to Israel's 50-day war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip this past summer.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed in the July-August war.

Regarding the threat of possible U.S. sanctions or cuts in aid for joining the ICC, Mansour said: “It is really puzzling when you seek justice through a legal approach to be punished for doing so.”

The United States has said the move was of deep concern and unhelpful to peace efforts in the region.

“It is an escalatory step that will not achieve any of the outcomes most Palestinians have long hoped to see for their people,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement. “Actions like this are not the answer.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abbas' action would expose the Palestinians to prosecution over support for what he called the terrorist Hamas Islamist group and vowed to take steps to rebuff any potential moves against Israel.

“We will take steps in response and defend Israel's soldiers,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued on Thursday.

U.S. officials say that around $400 million in annual aid could be in jeopardy after the Palestinian move to join The Hague-based court, which looks at cases of severe war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as genocide.

The other signed treaties the Palestinians delivered to the United Nations include the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, two additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The Palestinian government signed the Rome Statute on Wednesday, a day after a bid for independence by 2017 failed at the U.N. Security Council.

Palestinians seek a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.

Momentum to recognize a Palestinian state has built up since Abbas succeeded in a bid for de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, which made Palestinians eligible to join the ICC.

Palestinians set to apply to International Criminal Court: Say they are losing hope in a diplomatic


A day after the United Nations Security Council voted against a resolution to set a date for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, Palestinian officials say they will take “immediate” steps to join international conventions, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move long opposed by Israel and the US. It will enable Palestinians to charge Israeli military and diplomatic officials with war crimes at the ICC Court in the Hague.

“Joining the ICC is another unnecessary and unhelpful step by the Palestinian leadership which will take us further from the track of negotiations,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon told The Media Line. “The Palestinians should not forget that if they join the ICC they will also be liable for terror and hatred promoted by the Palestinian Authority.”

Palestinians are angry that the Security Council voted down their resolution, even though the US had said that it would veto the proposal if it passed the Security Council. They said that Nigeria, which had been expected to vote in favor, voted against the resolution after heavy pressure from the US and Israel.

“The Americans should be asked if they advanced the cause of peace by putting pressure on certain countries not to vote in favor,” Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) told the Media Line. “The Americans should be asked if using their veto 41 times against the rights of the Palestinian people has changed anything for the better. I think the US attitude is helping to close off any chance of a political horizon and strengthens those who believe in violence.”

There had been some speculation that the US will now try to re-launch Israeli-Palestinian bilateral peace talks, as they did at the beginning of the year. But most Israeli analysts say that little is expected to happen until after the Israeli elections on March 17.

Last month, a series of attacks swept through Jerusalem, including the horrific attack on worshippers in a synagogue. Tensions on both sides continue to run high. Palestinians say a laborer was crushed to death at an Israeli checkpoint near the West Bank city of Tulkarem as he was crossing into Israel for a construction job. Israeli troops have killed two Palestinian youths this month, after they allegedly threw rocks at troops.

There is some concern that angry Palestinians will react to the no vote in the Security Council with a new wave of attacks on Israel. At the same time, even if the Security Council had voted to discuss the resolution, the US would have used its veto.

Palestinian officials say their population is losing hope that diplomacy will achieve any gains for them.

“Palestinians lost hope a long time ago,” Abu Eid said. “We are trying to open a political horizon for them. When people see what happens in the Security Council with a resolution that does not contradict by a single comma US and European policy, they believe their legitimate aspirations won’t come true.”

At the same time, Palestinian officials say they will keep pushing the international community to recognize a Palestinian state, and say Israel should expect a hard time in the ICC.

This piece was originally published on The Media Line.

Palestinians join war crimes court after U.N. rejection


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed on to 20 international agreements on Wednesday, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a day after a bid for independence by 2017 failed at the United Nations Security Council.

The move, which angered Israel and the United States, paves the way for the court to take jurisdiction over crimes committed in Palestinian lands and investigate the conduct of Israeli and Palestinian leaders over more than a decade of bloody conflict.

“They attack us and our land every day, to whom are we to complain? The Security Council let us down — where are we to go?” Abbas told a gathering of Palestinian leaders in remarks broadcast on official television.

The Palestinian U.N. observer mission initially announced it would deliver on Wednesday to the United Nations the signed documents to accede to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC. But the mission later said the delivery had been postponed and would likely take place on Friday.

According to the Rome Statute, the Palestinians would become a party to the court on the first day of the month that follows a 60-day waiting period after depositing signed and ratified documents of accession with the United Nations in New York.

In the months leading up to Tuesday's failed U.N. bid, Sweden recognized Palestinian statehood and the parliaments of France, Britain and Ireland passed non-binding motions urging their governments to do the same.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abbas's action would expose the Palestinians to prosecution over support for what he called the terrorist Hamas Islamist group, and vowed to take steps to rebuff any potential moves against Israel.

Israel and Hamas fought a July-August war in which more than 2,100 Palestinians, 67Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed.

“We will take steps in response and defend Israel's soldiers,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

The United States said the was of deep concern and unhelpful to peace efforts in the region.

“It is an escalatory step that will not achieve any of the outcomes most Palestinians have long hoped to see for their people,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement. “Actions like this are not the answer.”

Palestinians seek a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.

Momentum to recognize a Palestine has built up since Abbas succeeded in a bid for de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, which made Palestinians eligible to join the ICC.

 

U.S. OBJECTIONS

Palestinian officials said on Tuesday American opposition made inevitable the defeat of a Security Council resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state by late 2017 after no more than a year of peace negotiations.

The United States and Australia voted against the bid, while eight countries voted yes and five abstained. The Palestinians were unable to achieve a hoped-for nine votes which would have forced the U.S. to exercise its veto as one of the council's five permanent members.

Peace talks mediated by the United States collapsed in April in a dispute over Israeli settlement-building and a prisoner release deal, as well as Abbas's decision to sign on to over a dozen previous international texts Israel saw as a unilateral move the contravened the negotiations.

“We've been playing Mr. Nice Guy with negotiations since 1991, meanwhile the possibility of a two-state solution erodes,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian diplomat, told Reuters.

She added that there were no immediate plans to lodge a formal complaint at the ICC, but that Abbas's move is “a clear signal to Israel and the international community that Israelmust cease and desist its war crimes, especially settlements.”

Other agreements approved by Abbas included several articles on the court's jurisdiction, commitments against banned weapons and cluster munitions along with less controversial pledges on the political rights of women, navigation and the environment.

Mahmoud Abbas: Winning abroad but losing at home


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Palestinians say that when it comes to diplomacy abroad, nobody can challenge the 80-year-old Mahmoud Abbas. But when it comes to tending to matters in the Palestinian territories, he doesn’t do so well.

In his speech on Sept. 26 to the United Nations Security Council, the Palestinian leader accused Israel of conducting a “war of genocide” during the recent aggression on Gaza. The United States slammed Abbas’ speech as “offensive” and “counterproductive” for any future peace talks.   

Palestinian analysts said Abbas was aiming at his home audience, where he was seen as not being tough enough on Israel during the summer’s fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. But while Abbas has stature outside the West Bank, he is coming under growing criticism at home.

“He has gained among international parties, but failed on the internal issue. There is still division [between Abbas’ Fatah Party and Hamas], no state institutions and a suspended Palestinian Legislative Council [PLC],” Hassan Khresheh, vice president of the PLC, said. “He has not worked hard enough on ending the division. The unity government is not functioning at all and if they don’t unite now, they will never be united.”

In April, a unity deal between the previously bitter rivals of Fatah and Hamas was reached, although it has not been implemented. Last week, Palestinian representatives of Hamas and Fatah agreed in Cairo that the Palestinian unity government will extend its control to include the Gaza Strip. Hamas hopes that the new government will manage to pay the salaries of 45,000 employees who were added to the Palestinian Authority (PA) during Hamas’ control of Gaza since 2007. Palestinian media report that efforts are underway to pay them through a third party before Eid Al-Adha (Muslim holiday of the sacrifice) beginning the evening of Oct. 4.

Khresheh said Abbas’ main agenda is returning to negotiations with Israel under the auspices of the Americans. But he said that most Palestinians have given up on bilateral negotiations with Israel, which have achieved little.

“Such negotiations will not bring rights to our people,” Khresheh said.

The fact that Abbas has been a key player in the Palestinian political process for years and hasn’t called it quits deserves recognition, he said. “He works very well diplomatically, although he is under constant pressure from the United States and Israel.”   

Khresheh said that as nothing has been gained since the U.N. recognized Israel as a non-member observer state two years ago, the PA should join other international bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). Israel has opposed this, fearing that it could be subject to war crimes trials. 

Khalida Jarrar, a member of the small hard-line group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said negotiations with Israel have not achieved anything and Abbas should pressure Israel via international organizations.

“I disagree with going back to negotiations,” Jarrar said, adding that action is needed, not more speeches. “He is just delaying going to the International Criminal Court. The ICC and sustaining Palestinian unity should be top priorities.” 

Fatah senior foreign policy adviser Husam Zomlot said bilateral talks with sole U.S. sponsorship has failed the Palestinians for 21 years and only gotten them a “state of limbo.” He urged Israel to be more forthcoming in its negotiations with Abbas, who has long advocated a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“The president believes firmly in the two-state solution and supports nonviolence,” Zomlot said. “This is an opportunity,” he suggested, that “will not repeat itself.”

The Fatah official said a peace partner like Abbas, who has clear political horizon, may not come again.  

London-based researcher Abdullah Hamidaddin said the real question is how Abbas will manage the negotiations. 

“Abbas has worked very hard but has had few successes,” Hamidaddin said. “But he was not decisive enough in the last round of negotiations. He entered them after much hesitation, and then hesitated to make tough decisions,” such as pulling out of the talks as Israel continued to expand construction in areas that Palestinians say must be part of a future Palestinian state.

Moeen probed after sporting ‘Save Gaza’ wristbands


England batsman Moeen Ali is being investigated by the International Cricket Council after wearing wristbands that featured the slogans 'Save Gaza' and 'Free Palestine' during the second day of the third test against India at Southampton.

Moeen, who has raised funds for charities helping those affected by the three-week conflict with Israel, has the backing of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

“As far as we are concerned, he has not committed any offence,” an ECB spokesperson said on Monday.

“It is now up to the ICC to decide whether he will face any action.”

He sported the bands while batting during England's first innings and the all-rounder has risked disciplinary action under the ICC Code of Conduct.

It states: “Players are not permitted to wear, display or otherwise convey messages through arm bands or any other items affixed to clothing or equipment unless approved in advance by the player or team official's Board.

“Approval shall not be granted for messages which relate to political, religious or racial activities or causes.”

Reporting by Liam Morgan; Editing by Mark Meadows

International court to look into Israel’s 2010 Gaza flotilla raid


The International Criminal Court prosecutor said she would open a preliminary examination into the 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, which left nine Turkish activists dead.

The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement Tuesday that she was obliged to open a preliminary examination following a referral from the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros, where one of the vessels that were raided was registered, Reuters reported.

Few preliminary examinations ever lead to a full investigation, let alone a trial. Activists have repeatedly attempted to involve the court in The Hague in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it has so far declined to investigate events in the Palestinian territories.

The raid, in which Israeli special forces rappelled down onto the ships of activists who were seeking to break an Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza, caused a breakdown in relations between Turkey and Israel.

“My office will be conducting a preliminary examination in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met,” Bensouda said.

The referral from the Comoros was relayed to the ICC by a Turkish law firm, Elmadag, according to Reuters.

The United States has been promoting a reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, two of its allies. Since then, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for “any error that may have led to loss of life” and talks have begun on compensation.

U.N.: Israel must withdraw from settlements immediately


A U.N. report on the impact of Jewish West Bank settlements on Palestinians said Israel immediately should begin withdrawing all settlers from the territory.

The report issued Thursday by the U.N. Human Rights Council based in Geneva said that settlements violate the 1949 Geneva Conventions and that failure to withdraw could lead to a finding of war crimes at the International Criminal Court. The Palestinians have threatened to take Israel to the ICC after the Palestinian Authority was recognized as a non-member state at the U.N. General Assembly last November.

The Human Rights Council's investigation began last March. Israel did not cooperate, barring investigators from entering the West Bank and charging the council with anti-Israel bias. The council has issued more resolutions regarding Israeli human rights violations than resolutions for all other countries combined.

Israel's Foreign Ministry called the report counterproductive.

“The Human Rights Council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematical, one-sided and biased approach towards Israel. This latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of such approach,” the ministry said. The report “will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” and “the only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the settlements issue, is through direct negotiations without pre-conditions.”

Investigators interviewed about 50 Palestinians in Jordan for the report, which found that Palestinians are prevented by settlements from reaching their farming lands and water resources.

Israel “must, in compliance with article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, cease all settlement activities without preconditions,” the report said. “It must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers from the OPT,” U.N.-speak for “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

An estimated 520,000 settlers live in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem in some 250 settlements, which “prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the report said.

Palestinians appeal to U.N. over Israel’s E1 housing plan


The Palestinians appealed to the United Nations Security Council to stop Israel from making plans to build 3,000 apartments in a controversial area outside of Jerusalem.

In a letter to the Security Council, the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. secretary-general, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations said the announced plans represent “Israel’s contemptuous response” to the international body's vote to approve enhanced observer statehood status for the Palestinians. Authorization for the construction planning was made by the nine-member security Cabinet on the evening of Nov. 29 in the hours after the General Assembly vote.

The housing would be built in the E1 corridor connecting Jerusalem to the large Maale Adumim settlement, an area that the Palestinians say is necessary to keep the borders of a Palestinian state contiguous.

The housing is still in the planning stages and construction is a long way off, according to reports

“Israel is methodically and aggressively pushing ahead with this unlawful land grab and colonization of Palestine with the intent to alter the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian territory, especially in and around East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, in its favor in order to entrench its illegitimate control of the land and prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations,” the letter said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would block the settlement building using all legal and diplomatic means, The Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said earlier in the week that the Palestinians would take Israel to the International Criminal Court over the settlement planning and the announcement that Israel would withhold $100 million in taxes collected for the Palestinians, which it will apply to the PA's outstanding electric bill

‘‘By continuing these war crimes of settlement activities on our lands and stealing our money, Israel is pushing and forcing us to go to the ICC,’’ Shaath said.

Israel says U.N. vote won’t hasten Palestinian state


A U.N. General Assembly vote on Thursday recognizing a Palestinian state will do nothing to make it a reality, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Israel had fiercely opposed the Palestinian bid to become a “non-member state” at the United Nations, but had been unable to prevent wide international support for the initiative, notably among its European allies.

“This is a meaningless resolution that won't change anything on the ground. No Palestinian state will arise without an arrangement ensuring the security of Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued by his office shortly before the U.N. vote was to be held.

Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of violating agreements with Israel by going to the U.N. unilaterally. “Israel will act accordingly,” Netanyahu said. “The way to peace between Jerusalem and Ramallah is through direct negotiations without preconditions, not unilateral decisions at the U.N.”

Peace talks collapsed in 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement building on territory Palestinians seek for a state.

The Israeli leader used unusually strong language to denounce a speech to the General Assembly by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – who had singled out an Israeli offensive in Gaza last week in which at least 170 Palestinians were killed. Six Israelis died in rocket fire from Gaza.

Abbas's comments were “hostile and poisonous”, and full of “false propaganda”, a statement released by Netanyahu's office said. “These are not the words of a man who wants peace.”

Israel had mounted an intensive campaign, supported by the United States, to dissuade European governments from backing the Palestinian move in the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly, long sympathetic to the Palestinians.

The vote took place on a date burned into collective memory – the Assembly voted on November 29, 1947 for Resolution 181 to partition British-ruled Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish. Arab rulers rejected it and, after bitter fighting, Israel alone was recognized as a state six months later.

“No matter how many hands are raised against us,” Netanyahu said during a visit to a museum in Jerusalem ahead of the U.N. vote, “there is no power on earth that will cause me to compromise on Israel's security.”

Israel, which has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967, says a Palestinian state must be the product of direct negotiations and a peace deal that imposes security measures and charts borders that pose no danger to Israelis.

PUNITIVE MEASURES?

Netanyahu, while hinting Israel may seek to retaliate, made no specific mention of punitive measures, in a shift in tone after eight days of fighting around the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu is running for re-election in a January 22 national ballot and has been accused by critics of harming Israel's international standing through his Palestinian policies.

Israeli officials said Israel will wait and see what the Palestinians do after the vote, which will allow them access to the International Criminal Court where they could seek action against Israel for alleged war crimes.

The Palestinians have signaled they are no hurry to join the ICC, and pledged in their draft resolution to relaunch the peace process immediately after the vote. Recognition by the General Assembly falls short of the legal weight of a similar move by the U.N. Security Council. A U.S. veto on that body ensures that Palestinians have little immediate prospect there.

Just two weeks ago, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the U.N. Assembly's approval of the Palestinian resolution would “elicit an extreme response from us”.

Another member of Netanyahu's right-wing cabinet, Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, said three years ago that Israeli counter-measures could include annexing some of the 120 settlements in the West Bank.

But in the past week, Israeli officials have retreated from such talk, retrenching after European countries, which had been largely supportive of Israel's November 14-21 Gaza offensive, started showing their backing for Abbas's U.N. move.

Israel is now threatening only one measure: the withholding of $200 million from the monthly transfers of duties that Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority's behalf. It says it will cover the PA's debt to the Israel Electric Corporation.

The deduction, equal to two months' worth of Palestinian tax receipts, would be painful for Abbas's cash-strapped government in Ramallah. But it would stop short of a formal suspension of transfers vital to the economy in the occupied West Bank.

Israel has previously frozen payments to the PA during times of heightened security and diplomatic tensions, provoking strong international criticism, such as when the U.N. cultural body UNESCO granted the Palestinians full membership a year ago.

Editing by Crispian Balmer and Myra MacDonald

Abbas needs an exit ramp from the U.N.


The Middle East is boiling over with crises. We've had the missile conflict between Hamas and Israel. We're in the midst of the quintessential post Arab Spring domestic conflict over how much power President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt should have, even in the short-term. And now … get ready for the latest diplomatic crisis between the Israelis and the West Bank Palestinian leadership, which could, if handled poorly, result in catastrophic developments. This week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to ask the United Nations General Assembly to vote on upgrading the Palestinians' status at the UN to “non-member state permanent observer.”

With violence between Hamas and Israel only just subsiding it seems almost unfair for the United States to have to reengage diplomatically in another Mideast confrontation. However, should Abbas' motion pass it would be bad for American interests, bad for the Palestinians, bad for Israel, and bad for peace.

As sympathetic as we are to Palestinian statehood aspirations, we believe that this bid, brought now, will only set the peace process back further. The most tangible direct consequence of putting the word “state” behind Palestine's title is the potential it brings for Palestine to challenge Israel at the International Criminal Court instead of resolving their differences through negotiation.

True, Abbas has promised to resume talks with Israel after the UN upgrade. However, opening up a pathway to the ICC would make moderate Palestinian leaders less inclined to bridge remaining gaps between them and the Israelis by reducing incentives to reach a negotiated solution. The vote could also encourage additional boycotts of Israel and facilitate other anti-Israel activity at the UN, which tends to increase Israeli feelings of isolation and unwillingness to compromise.

Further, regardless of how the U.S. administration or our European allies decide to react, the U.S. Congress will likely respond by withdrawing funding earmarked for development assistance and other PA functions. Thus, although a win at the UN might gain Abbas a victory, it could very well undermine the fiscal stability of an already weakened Palestinian Authority.

Perhaps worst of all, approving the measure now may seem to reward violence by suggesting that progress for Palestinian aspirations comes only after violence by Hamas. It would be like withdrawal from Gaza all over again, when Israeli concessions were widely perceived as a victory for Hamas rather than the result of moderation.

If these are the stakes, then what is the solution? Even if some might find Abbas' conduct a frustrating diversion from negotiations, cutting of U.S. funds entirely might topple the Palestinian Authority, inviting Hamas to take its place. As such, the threat of U.S. sanctions by the executive branch in addition to Congress is wholly unwise.

Instead, the best tools are inducements: economic incentives and diplomatic signals of engagement. Although saying yes at the UN — or even turning a blind eye — is not a viable option, we need to give Abbas a feasible exit ramp. And it needs to be compelling enough to remind the Palestinian street that his path, the path of non-violence, pays greater dividends than Hamas's.

One possibility would be to work with Israel to craft serious economic incentives to drop or modify the bid. For instance, Israel could offer to expand trade flows in and out of the West Bank or to revise the Paris economic protocol that governs economic relations between Israel and the PA to grant Salam Fayyad's Palestinian economic team greater control over internal economic management. Both would be welcome steps and would track Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's previous statements of support for Palestinian economic growth as a pathway to peace. America can play a key role in negotiating such an economic package between the parties, either in public or in private.

Perhaps more importantly, the United States can signal that non-violence reaps rewards by significantly reengaging in the peace process. One way would be to upgrade U.S. envoy David Hale to the status of a presidential envoy with greater authority to craft an agenda and bring the parties together. Alternatively, Senator John McCain's recent suggestion that Bill Clinton be appointed to negotiate between the parties deserves serious consideration.

Finally, given that the main problem we see with the Palestinians' latest membership bid is the threat of drawing in the ICC, the administration should consider ways of tempering the threat of ICC actions to make the bid less disruptive. For instance, President Obama could link economic and diplomatic inducements in a possible agreement to Congressional language that would automatically trigger dramatic and irrevocable sanctions if Palestine does go to the ICC. By visibly tying his hands on the matter, the president could make credible threats that help contain the risk the bid poses without immediately weakening the already teetering PA.

The recent Gaza War puts the stakes into sharp focus. Coming down too hard on Abbas could be seen as validating Hamas's narrative that only violence can elicit concessions from Israel and the West. However, if we do not provide Abbas with a speedy exit ramp that offers his people a promising path forward, then Hamas will have already won.


Steven L. Spiegel is Professor of Political Science at UCLA. Danielle Spiegel-Feld is a Senior Associate with Israel Policy Forum. David Andrew Weinberg serves as a Non-Resident Fellow with the UCLA Center for Middle East Development.

ICC prosecutor: No probe on Gaza war crimes because Palestine not a state


The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague said the court cannot open an investigation into cases related to the 2008-09 Gaza war because Palestine is not a state.

Jose Luis Moreno Ocampo said on April 3 in a statement that it is up to the United Nations or the states that make up the court to determine whether the Palestinian Authority (PA) can be a signatory to the 1998 Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty. According to the statute, only internationally recognized states can join the international court.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that while Israel welcomes the decision on the lack of ICC jurisdiction, “It has reservations regarding some of the legal pronouncements and assumptions in the Prosecutor’s statement.”

The ICC’s decision came in response to a January 2009 request by the PA that the court direct its war crimes tribunal to investigate war crimes cases against Israeli officials stemming from the month-long Gaza war that began in late December 2008. The request was in the form of a letter filed with the court in which the PA unilaterally accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction.

NGO Monitor had filed a legal brief on the case arguing that the court does not have jurisdiction over the PA because it is not a state.

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