One could be forgiven for thinking that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is God’s unique way of revealing the depth of human hypocrisy. It’s not just that the US State Department has threatened to withhold its annual $400 million economic aid to the Palestinians in response to the PA’s bid to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) while no comparable threat is ever made to withhold the annual $3 billion plus it gives Israel for its illegal settlement construction.
No. That would be an entirely false equivalence to make. In the upside down world of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the deepest levels of hypocrisy has created a perverse situation where lawlessness and injustice is rewarded and demanding law and justice is punished.
On the one hand, we have the Palestinians who want to abide by international law and are manoeuvring to join the ICC, one of the most prestigious legal institutions on earth. This is part of a long campaign to incorporate the institutions of international law into what has been an anarchic peace process where bullies make the rules that Palestinians have to follow.
As part of this campaign, back in 2004 the PA sought the opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over Israel’s construction of the Separation Wall. The landmark ruling, which needs remembering in light of the recent fuss, saw the ICJ conclude that the wall was illegal. “Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law, to cease the construction of the Wall, to dismantle its structures,” it said.
It further counselled that “all States are under an obligation not to recognise the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the Wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction and its associated regime.”
On the other hand, we have a country that has violated dozens of UN resolutions, derides the opinions of the ICJ and is looking to punish Palestinians by halting $127 million in tax revenue – which rightfully belongs to them – for pursuing their legal campaign. If, as Netanyahu claims: “Israel is a law abiding country”, “has nothing to fear from the ICC unlike Hamas and the PA”, then why resort to such bullying and demonisation?
In addition to the threat of withholding funds to the PA, Republicans, who control the Congress, also want to defund any United Nations entity that recognises a non-existent State of Palestine and “to make it clear to Abu Mazen [Abbas] that there will be consequences to his schemes at the United Nations and other international organisations like the International Criminal Court“.
Judging by the reaction and statements made by the US State Department, which described the move as: “deeply troubling”, “entirely counterproductive”, “badly damages relations”, one could very easily make the mistake of thinking that US indignation was in response to the killing of over 2,000 people; or a valid response to a UN fact-finding mission back in 2010, which found that Israel committed war crimes and crimes against humanity; or maybe even an attempt to put pressure on Israel to stop illegal settlement construction that has fatally damaged any chance of a two state solution.
No comparable rebuke was ever voiced because in this upside down world of the Israel-Palestine conflict threat and outrage have been displaced from their rightful place. This was shamelessly displayed last summer when thousands of Palestinians were killed during Israel’s onslaught on Gaza. The US, instead of at the very least threatening to stop aid to the Israeli military for their brutality, decided to replenish Israel’s stockpile of weapons when it was running low on munitions from its four week assault.
If the US reaction to a Palestinian manoeuvre to join the ICC and other international organisations is as if the Palestinians were on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons; whilst their reaction when Palestinians are under vicious attack by Israel, is to provide unqualified support as Israel commits war crimes, how can Palestinians, or anyone who actually still believes the two-state solution is still a viable option, keep their faith in the US as a moderating force?
This charade should have had its official funeral last September when, immediately after Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, the US senate unanimously adopted the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act; a bill that all but in name, declared Israel as the 51st state of America.
Also, in December 2014, US Congress passed a funding bill stipulating that no State Department economic support funding may be given to the PA if “the Palestinians initiate an International Criminal Court judicially authorised investigation, or actively support such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.”
With the US congress lurching to the right, more pressure will be applied on the Palestinians. Both houses of the new Congress will be controlled by Republicans, with many key positions filled by senators and representatives who are pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian.
The new bill threatening to defund Palestinians if a move is made at the ICC is strongly worded and states that President Barack Obama cannot waive a decision to halt aid to the PA.
It would be perfectly sensible for Palestinians, especially now, to want to bypass the US veto, which has been historically misused to shield Israel while it continues with its on-going violations of international law. The status quo, which even the US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers is unhappy about but unwilling to do anything about, has been utterly fruitless for the Palestinians but very profitable for Israelis who have reaped the rewards of history’s one and only cost free occupation.
Even if the US decides not to defund the PA due the importance of keeping it afloat and the ramifications of not paying the salaries of tens of thousands of employees, the chances are that the moral victory is unlikely to be followed by similar legal and political success.
Whilst the Security Council is unable to prevent Palestine from becoming a party to the ICC, it can prevent the prosecutor and the court from proceeding with an investigation even when the ICC is granted jurisdiction over Palestine following a successful bid. The ICC has been under tremendous pressure not to open Gaza war crimes inquiries through various loopholes and legal jargon.
As the European Council on Foreign Relations states: “The Rome Statute allows the UN Security Council to prevent the prosecutor and the court from opening an investigation and exercising jurisdiction by passing a Chapter VII resolution at 12-month intervals. It could be argued before the Security Council that the demands for peace in the Middle East outweigh the demands of justice and that involving the ICC at a critical juncture of the Israel-Palestine dispute will diminish the prospects of peace.”
That being the case, the PA will have to ensure that at least one of the five permanent members of the Security Council is willing to veto (or threaten to veto) any resolution that might try to defer an investigation or prosecution in the event that such a resolution is introduced in the Security Council.
With this political check by the UN Security Council on the ICC and judging by the depth of hypocrisy, Palestinians will have to jump over even bigger hurdles to see Israeli soldiers are prosecuted for war crimes.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.