Fake Fears About the Palestinian Authority, Statehood and the International Criminal Court

Posted on September 15, 2011

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A lot of the confusion surrounding the Palestinian Authority’s bid to be recognized as a state by the United Nations is a logical outcome of the sporadic, inaccurate and biased reporting of the so-called peace process over nearly two decades. Like almost everything about the conflict, this has caused the mainstream public to take one of two positions. Pro-Israel and US government people, orgs and outlets have some pretty lame arguments about how dangerous the bid is that revolve around the portrayal of Palestinians as some kind of zombie menace that will simply ooze through the boarded windows of the besieged state if given an inch. Pro-Palestinian and progressive voices argue that the UN bid is an important step in the recognition of Palestinian self-determination, that it has international backing and that it will at the least force Israel and US back to negotiations.

I’ll admit it’s a tough one for me. As soon as I heard that the PA was collecting support for a recognition of statehood, I felt very strongly that nothing good could come of it. That’s because I regard the PA, as many others do, as an inherently corrupt group of kleptocrats that sees its duty foremost as political survival and self-enrichment. Second most, as the de facto occupying force in the West Bank, keyed into Israeli security needs, and predicting and fulfilling them even sometimes before Israel is aware of them. Thirdly, as an  inept banana republic, useless in almost any of the tasks a state must handle on the part of its constituents.

Since then, I’ve seen some good arguments about what the PA could accomplish with a minor victory at the UN. Despite the fact that the US will most certainly veto the UNSC resolution necessary for a General Assembly vote on recognition, that veto will come with what many argue will be a PR and legitimacy cost. Also, one, or a permutation of, the strategies that the PA could then follow could create some minor tools, one of them being possible access to the International Criminal Court.

Israel has said that it would regard such access as a grave threat, akin to war. And the US in not so many words has backed them [Ali Gharib has a rundown of these arguments at Think Progress]. But what remains missing from the mainstream arguments is the main actor in that proposed drama, the PA itself. Though I find the arguments about access to the international law tool box compelling, I still come back again and again to the laborer that would be using that tool box, the Palestinian Authority.

Would the PA actually pursue charges at the ICC under some circumstance?

In fact, according to the Palestinian Papers, the PA’s Negotiation Support Unit had already researched arguments with which the PA could have pursued charges at the ICC concerning Israel’s Cast Lead operation in Gaza. While it was not guaranteed, the possibility of an ICC route already existed, but it was a route the Palestinian Authority, despite some saber-rattling, refused to take seriously. As is clear in this cablegate memo, the Palestinian Authority informed US Israel that its exploratory letter to the ICC, which had caused some consternation in Israel at the time, was, “the result of internal Palestinian pressures…suggesting it had no importance”. In short, it was a PR move, and that Israel should have known better. The PAs half hearted attempt went nowhere at the ICC, though it was not really in the PA’s hands. But the confession to US diplomats Israel that its attempts weren’t serious seems to jibe well with its attempts to undercut the Goldstone Report, its antagonism towards Richard Falk the UN rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, and its own admissions since that it would not use membership to the ICC as a means of seeking justice for previous Israeli crimes.

It’s quite obvious that the PA has little interest in human rights issues, or a just outcome for the people they claim to represent. When the situation for Palestinians was at its worst, with a blockade and deadly invasion of Gaza, the PA would not even risk a serious effort at the ICC. Why, then, would they do so now? When they have accessed the tools of international law at their disposal, it has only been as a perceived benefit to a merry-go-round negotiation, that would, if it was ever complete, result in nothing more than the institutionalization of the current situation for both Gaza and the West Bank. Like almost every public act the PA undertakes, its a desperate and comical scramble to appear effective, sovereign and active. No one knows this better than Israeli and US government officials, who treat the PA like bratty children at nap time, whether at meetings or in documents, as both cablegate and the Palestinian Papers have shown. Their arguments are as disingenuous as the entire sham peace process that they all preside over, and that allows Israel’s ongoing colonization of Palestine, and born of fear of diplomatic blow-back, nothing more.