UN lets down the Palestinians, will the ICC?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must surely feel he’s fighting windmills. This is a leader who has wholeheartedly rejected violence, choosing instead the path of peaceful negotiation. Nevertheless, his legitimate efforts to bring about a Palestinian state always result in disappointment, despite the fact that the majority of UN General Assembly member states are in his camp. Unfortunately, there are those who pay lip service to a two-state solution, but when push comes to shove they throw the Palestinian people’s aspirations under a bus.

The system just isn’t conducive to implementing justice under international laws and conventions when a handful of UN Security Council (UNSC) members are able to scuttle pro-Palestinian resolutions using their power of veto. That, however, was not the case last week when the UNSC rejected the Palestinian National Authority’s (PNA) resolution calling for Israel to withdraw from occupied Palestinian territories by 2017.

Although only two of the usual suspects voted ‘no’—the US and its ally Australia—the draft resolution failed to garner the requisite nine ‘yes’ votes. Eight countries voted in favour and five were guilty of cowardice by abstaining, including Nigeria which is believed to have buckled under US pressure, as in the past it’s been vehemently pro-Palestinian.

In truth, the resolution wouldn’t have passed however the vote went, but Washington was spared the embarrassment of wielding its veto by a hair’s breadth. The UK, whose Parliament recently held a non-binding vote to recognise the state of Palestine, hid behind its abstention, claiming that if the draft had been more “moderately” worded, it would have voted ‘yes.’ France’s parliament echoed the British parliamentary vote, but the difference is that Paris stood by its guns in the UN, risking its diplomatic relations with Israel.

Naturally, the Palestinians were disappointed at the outcome, but hardly surprised when the US never puts its money where its mouth is when Israel is involved. The Obama administration has slammed the Netanyahu government for its expansion of Jewish colonies and Gaza numerous times; has criticised Netanyahu for being less than serious about peace talks—and the White House used undiplomatic language during Israel’s onslaught on Gaza last year. But while President Obama is good at talking the talk he’s unable or unwilling to walk the walk.

In the face of a weak-kneed international community, the PNA has now applied to be a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in the hope that Israel will be held to account for committing war crimes in Gaza and, furthermore, it seeks legal clarity on the issue of Israeli colony expansion, which, in fact, contravenes the ICC’s constitution. The Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, appeared confident that the application will be accepted. “We are honoured that we are to be the 123rd state party to join the ICC, which will become effective about 60 days from now,” he told reporters, while dismissing the suggestion that Hamas would also be vulnerable to war crimes charges.

Mansour’s optimism may not be justified. In the first place, although Palestine has been granted Non-Member Observer State status by a vote in the UN General Assembly, until now, the ICC has only accepted applications from fully-fledged functioning states. The prevailing wisdom is that the bid will be successful, however. If and when that hurdle is overcome, is there a chance we’ll witness Israeli officials being hauled to The Hague any time soon? It’s a complex question but if I had to bet my house on it, my answer would be no.

Firstly, until now, ICC prosecutors have for some strange reason only pursued African nationals, indicating they’re wary of upsetting big powers and their allies—and for that, it has come under heavy criticism. Secondly, Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Treaty and, like the US, does not recognise its jurisdiction. The UNSC does have the power to refer non ICC-member states for investigation, but, again, the US would undoubtedly use its veto.

Let’s for the sake of argument suppose that all those obstacles could be circumvented, Israel would not permit teams of ICC investigators access and would refuse to cooperate with prosecutors. And even if arrest warrants were issued by the court for prominent Israeli figures, the chances of those individuals willingly coming forward is nil.

Then there is the question of whether countries would risk alienating Israel and the US by complying with international arrest warrants. If you recall, Britain actually amended its laws to protect visiting Israelis from prosecution.

Sad to say, that the Obama administration has responded to the Palestinians’ ICC application with a threat to cut or reduce US aid. Israel has also warned of negative repercussions. It’s time US and Israeli leaders heeded wise words uttered by Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.”

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

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