Palestinians shift to international arena with International Criminal Court accession move

Entry to Hague court to enable investigation of alleged war crimes


On New Year’s Eve, Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas signed three documents providing for Palestinian accession to the International Criminal Court, paving the way for prosecutions of Israelis and Palestinian militants for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Once Palestinian accession comes into effect after a 60-day waiting period, court investigators would assess allegations of war crimes against all parties to the conflict and prepare prosecutions. The Palestinians are set to become the court’s 123rd member.

As he signed the court’s statute and 17 other international conventions, Abbas said: “There is aggression practiced against our land and our country, and the [United Nations] security council has let us down – where shall we go?” He said the PA would lodge cases with the Hague- based court against Israelis.

A United States state department spokesman said the action was “entirely counterproductive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state”.

Rebuff Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said:

“We will rebuff this attempt to force diktats on us.” He added that Israel would “take steps in response and defend Israel’s soldiers”. The PA, he said, had “more to fear” than Israel from the court because of the inclusion in the consensus government of Hamas, regarded as a terrorist organisation by the US and Israel.

However, during last summer’s Israeli military campaign in Gaza, Hamas called upon Abbas to sign the court’s statute, risking prosecution of its leading figures.

The timing of Palestinian accession to the court was doubly significant. On one hand it followed by 24 hours the defeat of the PA’s security council resolution calling for a negotiated settlement with Israel by 2016 and an end to Israeli occupation by 2017.

Palestinian Liberation Organisation executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi condemned the council vote as “outrageous” and castigated the US for pressuring five council members, particularly Nigeria, to abstain, thereby denying the Palestinians the nine votes required and forcing the US to cast a veto.

She said these countries had “demonstrated a lack of political will to hold Israel accountable and to act in accordance with the global rule of law and international humanitarian law.”

On the other hand, accession to the court took place on the 50th anniversary of the first military operation carried out by Abbas’s Fatah movement – the blowing up of a water pump in northern Israel – and could signal a shift from negotiations with Israel to confrontation through internationalisation.

Abbas did not expect the resolution would deliver a Palestinian state in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, but hoped its adoption would ease pressure on him to sign the court’s statute. However, the resolution’s rejection destroyed any illusion he entertained that he could count on the council, shamed him at a time his approval rating is 35 per cent and gave him no alternative but to sign.

He has, for now at least, been compelled to join the camp formed by Fatah dissidents, other PLO factions and Hamas. They have called for abandonment of fruitless US-brokered negotiations with Israel and the adoption of an assertive unilateralist policy on the international scene. Last year, Sweden recognised the state of Palestine and there were non-binding votes in the Irish, British, French and Spanish parliaments in favour of recognition. France and Luxembourg voted in favour of the failed council resolution.

The US Congress has threatened to cut aid in retaliation for Abbas’s defiance and Israel could halt transfers to the PA of taxes collected on its behalf. While lack of funds could collapse the PA, neither the US nor Israel want this.

Halt co-operation

In response, Abbas could halt co-operation between his security forces and the Israeli army and internal intelligence agency at a time when Palestinian individual attacks have escalated on Israelis in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Ending co-operation would be popular with Fatah members, other PLO factions and the majority of Palestinians living in enclaves under PA administration who want this co-operation to cease as long as Israel expropriates Palestinian land and constructs settlements in areas Palestinians seek to include in their state.

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