Inevitable, perhaps, but regrettable on a number of levels — even for the Palestinians. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced this morning that the International Criminal Court would accept the membership bid of the Palestinian Authority, which will allow the PA to pursue war-crimes charges against Israelis. The move comes after a surprising setback at the Security Council for Mahmoud Abbas, who will use this recognition instead to argue that the PA is already a de facto state, which Ban endorsed in his statement, at least tacitly (emphasis mine):
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said late Tuesday that the state ofPalestine will join the International Criminal Court on April 1, a high-stakes move that will enable the Palestinians to pursue war-crimes charges against Israel. …
In a statement posted on the U.N.’s treaty website, the secretary-general announced his acceptance of the documents saying “the statute will enter into force for the State of Palestine on April 1, 2015″ in accordance with the court’s procedures. He said he was “acting in his capacity as depositary” for the documents of ratification.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed documents to join the ICC a day after the U.N.Security Council rejected a resolution on Dec. 30 that would have set a three-year deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state on lands occupied by Israel.
Joining the ICC is part of a broader Palestinian strategy to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the territories and agreeing to Palestinian statehood. Abbas has been under heavy domestic pressure to take stronger action against Israel after a 50-day war between the Jewish state and militants in Gaza over the summer, tensions over holy sites in Jerusalem, and the failure of the last round of U.S.-led peace talks.
The “state of Palestine”? Ban’s statement grants Abbas the talking point he wants without much of a struggle. That in itself may not be a bad thing, as Abbas is struggling against Hamas at home, which is marginally worse than Abbas’ Fatah faction. The UN has not officially recognized Palestine as a state yet, though, and this looks like a back-door effort by Ban to work around the nations that want the PA and Israel to work out its security differences.
The US has already objected to the bid, but have little influence at the ICC or the General Assembly of the UN. We do not have ICC membership thanks to a wise decision by the Bush administration to keep the US out of its jurisdiction. Neither does Israel, thanks to their experiences with the UN’s sense of justice in the UN human-rights committees over the past few decades. The ICC isn’t terribly effective at prosecutions, but they do have leverage in Western countries for arrests of non-diplomatic personnel. Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t at risk, but Israeli private citizens may have to watch where they travel in the future if the ICC plays along with Abbas. And while the PA’s membership does give the ICC jurisdiction over the PA as well, the two nations who are most likely to press for action from it would be the US and Israel if it had standing with the court. It’s low risk for Abbas, in other words.
However, the move risks the flow of much-needed cash into the PA. Rand Paul will introduce a Senate bill to cut off all American aid in response to this bid, the Free Beacon reports this morning:
Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) introduced a bill late Tuesday that would fully eliminate U.S. aid to the Palestinians until their leadership withdraws a controversial bid to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to a copy of the legislation exclusively obtained by the Free Beacon. …
Paul’s bill, the Defend Israel by Defunding Palestinian Foreign Aid Act of 2015, would freeze $440 million in aid that is annually sent to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its affiliates.
Virtually all channels for aid disbursement to the PA would be choked off under the bill, according to the legislation.
The bill stipulates that “no amounts” of money can be “obligated or expended to provide any assistance, loan guarantee, or debt relief to the Palestinian Authority, or any affiliated governing entity, until the Palestinian Authority withdraws its request to join the International Criminal Court,” according to the legislation.
Paul’s bill would actually change the threshold for aid cutoff. Currently, US policy does not have any sanction for the PA joining the ICC. Aid would get cut off when the PA files a case against Israel, which would be a very short-term distinction. Abbas would have filed a case anyway to dare the US into cutting off funds. It seems rather doubtful that Barack Obama would have called the bluff, so Paul’s act becomes a lot more important in the short run by removing Obama’s maneuvering room.
Israel has already cut off tax disbursements to the PA for submitting the bid in the first place, which has kept $100 million out of Abbas’ hands. That money and the American aid are badly needed for Gaza’s rebuilding, and to pay the salaries of PA officials in both Gaza and the West Bank. Abbas may be able to withstand the loss of revenue for a short while, no doubt supplemented by other sources in the region. The rise of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt limits those options somewhat for Abbas, although not entirely. It will put pressure on Israel, but also on Abbas to prove that this stunt won’t backfire.
Ironically, Ban just got done lecturing leaders on both sides to address extremism and violence:
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon placed separate telephone calls to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, expressing extreme alarm at the upsurge in violence in recent weeks.
According to a readout of the calls released by Ban’s office, he warned the leaders that the “dangerous downward spiral must urgently be reversed.”
Ban emphasized to the two leaders that “at this delicate and dangerous juncture, courage and responsibility are required from both the president and the prime minister to take a stand that may be contrary to extremists in their own domestic constituencies.”
If that’s what Ban wants, he’s making a huge mistake. His approval of the ICC bid practically invites the Palestinians to step up their provocations in hopes of making a case against Israel at the ICC. Ban had better get ready for another intifada, and get ready to accept some of the blame for it, too.