On Palestine joining the International Criminal Court, Israel has run out of excuses

If there’s one thing that can be certain, it’s that Palestinian aggression against Israel is doomed to fail. No matter how hard the Palestinian attack Israel, Israel is always going to be able to hit back harder. The Iron Dome makes sure that rockets from Gaza will be intercepted before they hit Israeli citizens, and Israel’s enormous arsenal of weapons killed 2,220 people in the 2014 Gaza war, including 551 children. No matter where you stand on the Israel Palestine conflict, the indiscriminate attacking of civilians, of which both sides are guilty, is totally unacceptable. However from the viewpoint of those in Gaza who advocate violence against Israel, the consideration that these attacks will never achieve their aim is an extra consideration that must be applied to end the bloodshed. Firing rockets into Israeli controlled territory will have no effect on Israel’s military capabilities or position of power whatsoever, and does little to endear the cause of Palestine with the international community. Once those in Gaza can be branded as terrorists, legitimacy is provided to the Israeli regime and Palestinians will find themselves even more isolated. If the Palestinians of both Gaza and the West Bank wish to achieve their stated aims, then they must reject indiscriminate violence as a morally unacceptable, and pragmatically useless, course of action.

With this in mind it was certainly a positive step when the Palestinian Authority recently announced its intention to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). This strategy has rattled the Israeli government and prompted immediately retaliation. It is understandable that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is nervous about this manoeuvre as it undermines their rhetoric about the Palestinian agenda; it is nonviolent, it does not threaten Israel’s right to exist, it is not terrorism.

Of particular concern to Israelis are Palestinian attempts to take them to court over settlement building, a policy illegal under Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions which even the United States rejects. Attacking settlement building at the ICC would place the policy under intense global scrutiny, laying bare the theft of Palestinian land under a policy that gives European Jewish immigrants more rights to land than Palestinians who were born there and sees settlements enjoying government subsidised water while nearby Arab villages are subject to punitive rationing and higher charges. There is also a danger that if Israel was pursued in the ICC over settlements, this would force further public debate in Israel, where the number of Israelis who reject settlement building is increasing year-on-year and 59% think settlement building damages Israel’s already strained relationship with the US.

The Israeli response to Palestine acceded to the ICC has been aggressive, lobbying ICC member states to stop funding the court and immediately freezing the transfer of $127m in Palestinian tax revenues, as move condemned by Palestinian officials as “collective punishment”. Despite being opposed to Palestine joining the ICC, the US State Department also criticised the withholding of tax revenue as “counterproductive”.

Despite punishing the Palestinian Authority for their diplomatic manoeuvre, it has remained unclear on what basis Israel objects to this move. It has accused the Palestinian Authority of hypocrisy because it alleges that Palestine has been responsible for human rights abuses, however this claim is completely undermined by Israel’s refusal to join the ICC itself. The Palestinian Authority is fully aware that it is also opening itself up to prosecution by the ICC, but this move in itself should be viewed as a positive commitment to human rights and international scrutiny. Israel and the US have also claimed that unilateral approaches to international bodies undermine any chance of negotiating a peace deal, but considering the Netanyahu regime’s lack of engagement with the peace process and continued expansion of settlements, as well as the recent Gaza war, this is a very shallow threat indeed.

Attempts by the governing bodies of the Palestinian Territories to internationalise their plight, eschewing counterproductive and morally indefensible violence and following a diplomatic route that bypasses the unfair and long-stagnant peace process should be viewed as a positive step on the road to a fair and just conclusion for all parties involved in the conflict. Palestine joining the ICC is just the latest attempt to usurp the Israeli regime using unilateral action internationally, a strategy that has yielded some success. Their first big success was the gaining of ‘Observer Status’ at the United Nations, which allows them to propose motions, but not vote on them as a full member state. The last twelve months have seen the Palestinian Authority successfully lobby European parliaments to recognise them as a state, join more than 30 international conventions, and failing by only one vote to achieve a UN Security Council resolution to set a 2017 deadline for ending Israel’s occupation which would have forced the US government to use their much criticised veto power. Conversely, Israel’s bullish behaviour and refusal to engage with the peace process is leaving it increasingly isolated in the international community, even with its previously unconditional ally, the United States. If Israel wants to counter these Palestinian moves effectively, it cannot continue with this bullying behaviour. Instead, it must affirm its commitment to human rights by reforming unjust policies, ending internationally condemned settlement building and joining the International Criminal Court. Only with both the Palestinian Authority and Israeli government under the equal scrutiny of the international judicial system, and fully engaged with international law, can negotiations on a fair and equal playing field become a reality, and a road to peace and equality seem anything more than a distant dream.

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