The Palestinian Authority is managing the occupation rather than ending it, and serving Israel’s interests rather than those of the Palestinians
The biggest prize of Palestine’s upgraded status at the UN two years ago, and the main reason for vehement Israeli and American opposition to the upgrade, was its ability to join the International Criminal Court. Since then, however, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has broken numerous promises to join the ICC – most recently last week – and seems to have an endless list of excuses. This year alone provides ample examples.
In February, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he took personal responsibility for delaying application by nine months because of an agreement with Israel on the release of Palestinian prisoners (which Israel subsequently violated).
The PA also said it would join the ICC if “peace” talks with Israel failed, which they did. Erekat gave a specific date, 29 April, which would mark the end of the timeframe for the talks. “A mistake was made by us” in not having already joined the ICC, he told me in February on Al Jazeera English. However, 29 April came and went without an application.
A recording was leaked in June reportedly of Erekat saying President Mahmoud Abbas had promised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would not apply to the ICC. For those who may doubt the authenticity of the recording, Erekat had said earlier this year, on TV, that Abbas last year “refused” to join the court.
There were threats to apply during Israel’s West Bank offensive this summer, but still nothing. During the subsequent invasion of Gaza, Hamas deprived the PA of one of its excuses for not doing so – that Hamas may also be subjected to ICC investigation – by saying it was willing to take the risk and urging the PA to apply.
Then, in a duplicitous act that defies all logic, Foreign Minister Riad Malki, on Abbas’s orders,reportedly stopped the application just six days after it was submitted to The Hague by the justice minister, and more than half way through Israel’s Gaza onslaught. This despite Malki having said: “We must do everything within our power to enable the International Criminal Court to bring to justice those responsible for committing war crimes.”
In September, new hurdles were found: getting Islamic Jihad on board, and according to the justice minister, Abbas was “awaiting national dialogue” before going to the ICC. Never mind that Hamas had already given its blessing, and that a national reconciliation deal had been signed several months earlier and a unity government established.
The latest PA excuse for not joining the ICC is that Abbas wants to push for a UN Security Council resolution demanding the “full withdrawal of Israel, the occupying power, from all of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, as rapidly as possible and to be fully completed within a specified time-frame, not to exceed November 2016.”
Attempting such a resolution is utterly pointless given that the US will veto it. As such, it looks like yet another delaying tactic by the PA. It said such a veto could lead to an ICC application, but has since been postponing the resolution bid, which was supposed to take place at the end of November.
First, this was because the PA was struggling to get support from enough council members (which would not matter anyway with an American veto). Then it was because the council’s attention was focused on nuclear talks with Iran. The PA has decided to wait until after the talks, which have just been extended by seven months.
Abbas has since said he had repeatedly postponed the resolution due to American pressure, contradicting previous statements from Palestinian officials that such pressure was not a factor.
What excuse will the PA think up next? It is clear by now that it is stringing Palestinians along and ignoring their legitimate rights and clear wishes. More than three-quarters of them want to turn to the court even if it leads to the PA’s collapse, according to a poll published in June. There is simply no reasonable justification for not having yet joined the ICC.
In the two years since Palestine’s upgraded UN status, the number and gravity of Israel’s violations and atrocities are too long to list, and grow daily. The PA’s shameful inaction sends a dangerous message that Israel can continue to occupy, colonise, dispossess, oppress and murder Palestinians with the acquiescence of their own leaders. What is the point of the PA if not to safeguard the rights and national aspirations of its people?
PA officials have expressed concern that joining the ICC will cause a crippling funding shortfall, primarily from the US. However, if self-preservation is more important than the welfare of their own people, they are not worthy of leading them.
Limiting Palestinian options
On top of the refusal to join the ICC, the PA is stifling every other important avenue by which Palestinians can challenge Israel. It refuses to back the increasingly effective Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “We do not support the boycott of Israel,” Abbas said in December 2013. “We don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel.” This despite the PA website acknowledging that “Israel forbids any of our products from reaching its markets.”
PA security forces have cracked down on peaceful protests. A Human Rights Watch report into the Authority’s record last year alone highlighted “police beatings and arbitrary arrests of demonstrators”, “excessive force”, “repressing critical news reporting and demonstrations”, “suppressing dissenting views,” and “serious rights abuses, including credible allegations of torture,” for which “no security officials were convicted”.
As such, the PA is not only failing to curb Israeli abuses, but is busy perpetrating its own. Malki has also made a grotesque assurance that as long as Abbas is in charge, “there will be no third intifada.” So the PA is leaving no viable option for Palestinians to gain their legitimate rights.
To make matters even worse, the Authority continues to invest in a never-ending “peace process” despite its own officials decrying the futility of doing so, and despite Israel’s consistent rejection of a Palestinian state, in its words, policies and actions.
Furthermore, in May, Abbas described as “sacred” security coordination with Israel, the very country that has subjected his people to the longest military occupation in modern history. Apoll published the previous month showed 80% of Palestinians opposed to such cooperation. Unsurprisingly, then, his comment was met with widespread disgust, and rightly so.
The PA is vindicating the increasing number of people who believe that it is managing the occupation rather than ending it, and serving Israel’s interests rather than those of its own people. The Palestinians, and their just cause, deserve so much better.
– Sharif Nashashibi is an award-winning journalist and analyst on Arab affairs. He is a regular contributor to Al Arabiya News, Al Jazeera English, The National, and The Middle East magazine. In 2008, he received an award from the International Media Council “for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting” on the Middle East.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Debris of a Palestinian building, demolished by the Israeli authority in East Jerusalem (AA)