Having been thwarted in the UN Security Council when a vote to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank went against it, the Palestinian Authority (PA) decided last week to sign several international conventions, most importantly the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002. As an expression of national dignity and exasperation with the peace process, the PA’s signing is understandable. Unfortunately, it is also a gift to Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right, who will now use it in the run-up to March elections to show that the Palestinians have abandoned the peace process and cannot be trusted. Moreover, by joining the ICC in defiance of US warnings not to do so, the PA will probably incur American sanctions, though we may hope that France and other EU governments which have recognized a Palestinian state will make up the difference in aid.
The bottom line here is that as badly as Palestinian-Israeli relations are now, they are likely to get still worse. The PA is promising to bring charges of Israeli crimes against humanity before the ICC, which the Israeli government and pro-government groups, will counter with legal, economic, and military action of their own. Already, Israel has frozen $127 million in tax revenues due the PA; and inasmuch as Israel, under the 1993 Oslo accords, reportedly collects over $1 billion a year in customs and other taxes on behalf of the PA, the freeze may have a devastating effect on the PA’s ability to pay salaries and otherwise function. A tit-for-tat situation may evolve, and life in the West Bank and Gaza may become even more tenuous. The resumption of violent confrontations between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas will then be quite likely.
Has the Obama administration thought through what a collapsing of the PA will mean for the tattered peace process and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
And how about the rule of law? Israel and the US, are not parties to the ICC. (They have signed but not ratified the Statute. In all, 17 countries have either not ratified or not signed it.) For Israel and the US to complain about the Palestinians joining the Court when they have not joined seriously undermines their protests. Israel and the US fear—and with good reason—that if they did join, their nationals could be dragged before the Court on war crimes or related charges. After all, Israel is an occupying power with well documented abuses of human rights. Protesting the Palestinians’ action, and condemning them for human-rights violations, would be more credible if Tel Aviv and Washington supported the Court and the principles of international law it represents.