Palestinian resort to ICC won’t work

PALESTINIAN APPEAL: The Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, has filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Israel of war crimes.
PALESTINIAN APPEAL: The Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, has filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Israel of war crimes. AP

Once again, the Palestinians have manifested their unwillingness to sit down at the table and resolve their conflict with the Israelis through negotiations. Instead, they have just filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, claiming that Israel had committed war crimes during the last war in Gaza.

The Palestinians also urged the ICC to open investigation against Israel, because, allegedly, Israeli settlements in the West Bank constituted war crimes.

The ICC, which has never investigated the war crimes of the Syrian regime, which has butchered hundreds of thousands of its own people, was quick to announce its acceptance of the Palestinian request, and the ICC’s attorney general announced that she would launch a preliminary investigation.

Robbie Sabel, a professor of international law at the Hebrew University and veteran legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, dismissed the Palestinian move. According to him, had Israel intended to harm civilians (like the Hamas did, by indiscriminately launching rockets at Israeli cities), the number of Palestinian casualties would have been much higher.

Surely, Prof. Sabel reasoned, Israel’s actions to defend itself against the rocket attacks on its citizens didn’t fall under what the ICC had been founded to investigate, according to its charter, namely, “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”

In regard to the settlements, Prof. Sabel argued that since they were purely a political issue, they were clearly outside the jurisdiction of the ICC and therefore the appeal should be dismissed.

In the meantime, however, the Palestinian appeal to the ICC has already caused mayhem in the already messed-up Palestinian-Israeli relations. In a closed meeting with European ambassadors in Israel (which was of course leaked to the press), Yitzhak Molcho, the closest adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warned that Israel was considering making the Palestinians “regret” their motion by filing charges against some of them individually in American courts.

Furthermore, he told his guests that Israel might “punish” the Palestinians by holding tax moneys owed to them by Israel. And in Washington there were threats to cut American aid to the Palestinian Authority if it doesn’t retrieve its appeal to the ICC.

The true problem, however, is not the Palestinian appeal to the ICC itself, which, as Prof. Sabel predicted, will most probably come to nothing, but the prospect that with the absence of peace talks, this exchange of blows will eventually bring about the collapse of the Palestinian Authority (frankly, I’m not sure the Palestinians themselves are not scheming it anyway).

In that case, Israel might be forced to take over the West Bank with its close to three million Arabs, which will be the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

An even more serious problem exposed by the Palestinian appeal to the ICC is the fact that instead of initiating, Israel is always reacting to the Palestinian moves. It was Gen. Ariel Sharon who, like Gen. George Patton before him, stressed the importance of always keeping the initiative vis-à-vis your enemy. (Actually, Gen. Patton’s phrase, when speaking to his Third Army troops before the assault on Germany, was “We're going to hold onto him [the Nazi enemy] by the nose, and we're going to kick him in the ass.”)

When Gen. Sharon moved to politics as prime minister, he responded to the lack of a Palestinian credible negotiating partner by pulling unilaterally from Gaza in 2005. Had he not been stricken by coma, he would have proceeded in the same path in the West Bank, insisting on not letting Israel be passively dragged into a bi-national state, where Jews would eventually become a minority.

A Sharon-like Israeli initiative today would be the recruitment of the moderate Sunni neighbors of Israel — Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia — as well as the Gulf states, which are as threatened, as is Israel, by Shiite Iran and by the radical Islamic State, to coerce the Palestinians into a settlement with Israel.

If this attempt fails, then Israel shouldn’t remain hostage to the Palestinians’ reluctance to negotiate or to their outlandish maneuvers in the international arena. Israel should pull out of most of the West Bank and establish its interim eastern border unilaterally, leaving the majority of the Jews living there under Israeli sovereignty and the majority of the land and the Arab inhabitants there in the hands of the Palestinians.

When this happens, then it is the Palestinians who would be on the horns of the dilemma: If by their intransigence they bring upon themselves the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, then the world community will have to establish some kind of a protectorate there, or, alternately, Jordan steps in to collect what remains of the Palestinian quest for statehood.

On the other hand, if the Palestinians come to their senses and understand that the main road to a viable two-state solution goes only through the path of negotiation, then it will be Israel’s duty to put forward the kind of leadership that would stand up to the occasion.

This is what the coming elections in Israel are about.

Uri Dromi is the director of the Jerusalem Press Club.