World Bulletin/News Desk
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has entered into his most serious confrontation yet with Israel by signing onto the International Criminal Court.
His decision on Wednesday gives the court jurisdiction over crimes committed in Palestinian lands and could even lead to cases being brought against Israeli or Palestinian leaders.
The nearly 80-year-old bespectacled former teacher, advocating non-violence, has spent his ten years in office trying to clamp down on armed groups and build up his administration in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
But the failure of peace talks this year to win a state or halt the spread of Israeli settlements seems to have clinched his decision that now is the time for what commentators on both sides describe as "lawfare" - conflict by means of law.
"We've tried every possibility to reach a solution with the Israelis and we've spent 20 years of negotiations that didn't end their occupation over us. So now we have taken a peaceful, legal option to internationalise this conflict," senior Palestinian official Mohammed Shtayyeh told Reuters.
U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian talks collapsed in April amid mutual blame. It was the latest failure of negotiations to bring about peace and a Palestinian state since the Palestinian Authority (PA) under Abbas's iconic predecessor, Yasser Arafat, came into being in 1993 under interim deals.
Abbas signed onto the ICC and 20 other international agreements a day after a resolution that called for an end to Israeli occupation by 2017 failed to win passage the United Nations Security Council.
It follows other steps to seek the trappings of statehood without waiting for the outcome of negotiations with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held an emergency consultation with senior ministers to discuss Abbas's move on Thursday and in a statement called on the ICC to reject it.
"We expect the ICC to summarily dismiss the Palestinian Authority's duplicitous application because the Palestinian Authority is not a state, it is an entity that is allied with a terror organisation, Hamas, which commits war crimes," he said.
The Palestinian faction Hamas escribed the signing of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a "step in the right direction."
"This step needs to be part of a general policy and a joint national program," Hamas said in a statement.
It called for holding a meeting of Palestinian factions with the aim of approving a suspension of peace negotiations and security coordination with Israel.
Hamas said the meeting should also dwell on means of lifting the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, reconstructing the war-battered territory, and bringing justice to civil servants in it.
Abbas signed the ICC membership applications following a public speech delivered in Ramallah after an urgent PA meeting was held to discuss a response to the draft resolution's failure.
"We expected to win nine votes at the UNSC, but one member state abstained at the last minute," Abbas said, without specifying which one.
"Every demand listed in the draft resolution was in line with international law," he added.
In 2012, the Palestinians won "non-member observer state" status in the U.N. General Assembly. In the past year, Sweden recognised the Palestinian state, while the British, Irish and French parliaments held non-binding votes calling on their governments to do the same.
Palestinians seek a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem - lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War. Palestinians consider the spread of Jewish settlements on occupied land a war crime which will deny them a viable state.
The latest moves come just three months before an Israeli general election, and could help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu push his hawkish message to Israeli voters that Israel has no peace partner.
Netanyahu, who was re-elected leader of the right-wing Likud party on Thursday, vowed to "defend Israel's soldiers".
Economy minister Naftali Bennett, a far-right member of Netanyahu's ruling coalition, said Abbas's Fatah party, as nominal partners in a Palestinian unity government with Hamas, "can go to the court in The Hague only as a defendant".
Opinion polls show Likud neck-and-neck with an alliance of centrist and centre-left parties that accuse Netanyahu of abandoning the peace process. But with other right wing parties also strong, the hawks have a better chance than the doves of forming the next Israeli ruling coalition.
An Israeli political source told Reuters that Netanyahu could seek to prosecute Palestinian leaders at the ICC for past militant attacks, or impose new economic sanctions on Abbas's cash-strapped administration.
But Israel may be careful about retaliating too strongly. The PA has cooperated with Israeli forces in West Bank.
"Abbas is deriving strength here from the PA's weakness. It's already under financial pressure and the Israelis and Americans know that any economic retaliation could cause it to collapse, which would undermine security," former Palestinian minister and academic Ghassan Khatib told Reuters.
Palestinian officials say U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told them privately in meetings that any Palestinian moves to join the ICC would endanger some half a billion dollars in annual American aid, which has repeatedly been docked before amid previous Palestinian campaigns at the United Nations.
While the United States and Israel worry for the PA's health, a survey found Palestinian satisfaction with the government at an all-time low, with 55 percent of respondents believing it has become "a burden on the Palestinian people".
The December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that Hamas was more popular than Abbas's Fatah party. More than half of Palestinians had never heard of Abbas's moves at the United Nations.Last Mod: 01 Ocak 2015, 22:59