Later this month, Palestinians will be celebrating an important anniversary, namely the decision by the U.N. General Assembly a year ago to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state.
But not with much joy, I suspect.
Its upgraded status enables Palestine to now take part in U.N. debates and join bodies like the International Criminal Court (ICC). Predictably, Israel flew into a rage at the prospect and said the move pushed the peace process “backwards,” while the U.S. said it was “unfortunate.”
So what has the Palestinian leadership done with this precious gift of empowerment from the international community?
To pretend there is something wrong with pursuing a brutal oppressor for war crimes through the proper channels - that is, the ICC - while talking peace, is absurd.Stuart Littlewood
In March this year the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, concluding four years of investigations, called for the ICC to investigate “crimes” committed by Israel in the occupied territories. The Tribunal said it would “support all initiatives from civil society and international organizations aimed at bringing Israel in front of the International Criminal Court.”
Since Palestine was awarded observer status at the U.N. the previous November, it could file complaints on its own behalf against Israel with the Court. The tribunal also called on the ICC to recognize Palestinian jurisdiction and for an extraordinary session of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid, set up for South Africa, to examine the Israeli case.
Also in March the United Nations Human Rights Council said Israeli settlements in the West Bank were a “creeping form of annexation” and the international community should take steps to halt business ties with those communities. Their report claimed that Israel could be culpable for these acts before the International Criminal Court. The mission asked Israel to withdraw its settlers from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and urged the international community to comply with their obligation under international law to act.
In April senior Palestinian officials were saying that if Israel began construction in the area designated “E-1,” a piece of land in the West Bank adjacent to Jerusalem seized by Israel in 1967, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would join the ICC and seek indictments on war crimes charges. It is believed that Israel’s administration had just given provisional permission to build some 3,300 Jewish homes on E-1.
Palestinians say that Israeli construction there would make an independent Palestinian state virtually impossible because it would cut off East Jerusalem (which is Palestinian) from the rest of the West Bank.
But why is Abbas waiting for the bulldozers to go into E-1 when there’s a long list of other examples of criminal settlement building and atrocities that Israel ought to be charged with?
In June Dr. Saeb Erekat, Palestine’s chief negotiator, was criticizing the policies being pushed by Israeli PM Netanyahu “including aggressive settlement activity, home demolitions, evictions and ID revocations. This is part of Israel’s plan to destroy any possibility for a Palestinian State, by annexing and changing the status quo of Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and other vast areas of the Occupied State of Palestine”.
The Israeli government, with its destructive policies, was determined to make U.S. Secretary Kerry’s efforts fail, he said. Israel’s actions made it clear they were declaring the end of the two-state solution. The international community should be pushing Israel to implement previous agreements and adhere to international law instead of calling for a resumption of negotiations. “There is a new urgency to face reality and finally hold Israel accountable for destroying the prospects of justice and peace.”
Israel was turning up its aggression against the Palestinian people while we were trying to reach a negotiated solution, grumbled Erekat. “After the announcement to intensify negotiations made by U.S. Secretary John Kerry, Israel destroyed the village of Khirbet Makhoul for the fourth time and approved further settlement expansion aimed at sealing Occupied East Jerusalem from Ramallah.”
Palestinian leadership shows no sign of starting the justice ball rolling
“Our position is clear and in line with international law: all Israeli settlements in Palestine are illegal... and undermine the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution. If Israel is serious about peace, they must cease all settlement activities.” Erekat again demanded action by the rest of the world “to make Israel pay the price for its institutionalized defiance of international law and U.N. resolutions.”
But there was still no sign of his own people - the Palestinian Authority and the PLO - taking action on their own account, or at least starting the ball rolling, even though the international community had given them the wherewithall to do so.
Now I hear that Israel is drilling into 3.5 billion barrels of oil reserves straddling the armistice ‘green line’, most of it lying under the West Bank. According to official agreements, says Al-Jazeera, “Israel is obligated to coordinate any exploration for natural resources in shared territory with the Palestinian Authority, and reach agreements on how to divide the benefits.”
Ashraf Khatib, an official at the Palestinian Authority’s negotiations support unit, described the oil field as part of Israel’s “general theft of Palestinian national resources... the occupation is not just about settlements and land confiscation. Israel is also massively profiting from exploiting our resources. There’s lots of money in it for Israel, which is why the occupation has become so prolonged.”
And, of course, the world knows how the Palestinians are prevented from benefiting from their offshore gas field and how, if Israel has its way, they’ll never get a sniff of their own gas either.
‘Life in Palestine is subject to the rule of the jungle’
Since the beginning of the Oslo process over 20 years ago, the rights of the Palestinian people have been sacrificed on the altar of so-called political progress, the glittering prize being ‘peace and security’. But that was never really on the cards. All we’ve seen is a continuous slide downhill for the Palestinians while the Israelis’ colonisation and expansion programme goes from strength to strength. “In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the expansion of settlements continues relentlessly, while the illegal Annexation Wall creates a situation that is completely at odds with both international law and the stated goals of the peace process,” says Shawan Jabarin in an excellent article Time for the ICC to act on Palestine.
“Life in Palestine is subject to the rule of the jungle: generals and politicians know that they can violate the law with impunity, fuelling a continuous cycle of violations and suffering. The result has been an increase in war crimes committed against innocent civilians. Throughout Palestine we are struggling for the right to live, and the right to live in dignity.”
Talking of the right to live in dignity, only today I was reading how some of the Palestinian villages are used by Israel for military training exercises in which soldiers enjoy virtual impunity with regard to their cruel behavior in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the pretext being that the Israeli military is the sovereign authority over the whole territory. “This edict contradicts international law and numerous United Nations resolutions that question the Israeli claim to sovereignty over all Palestinian land,” reports the IMEMC.
The Israeli military frequently invades Palestinian towns and villages, with soldiers running through streets and alleys with loaded automatic weapons, ransacking homes and terrorizing residents, for the purposes of ‘training’. Residents and the human rights groups representing them have provided numerous examples of the soldiers tearing through homes and yards, breaking into houses, running up and down stairs and taking over rooftops of family homes as part of these exercises.
It’s bad enough that villages experience actual Israeli military invasions on a regular basis. Now, since the military makes no attempt to differentiate between an invasion and a ‘training exercise’, the villagers are just as terrorized as they are during real raids.
Wasting that all-important empowerment on a silly promise
International justice remains out of reach for millions of civilians because the corrupt U.S., UK and EU political establishments conspire to ‘persuade’ Palestine not to join the ICC or press war crimes charges and other complaints against racist Israel. The Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC, meanwhile, is waiting for Palestine to ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court and become a full member if it wishes to commence proceedings.
To pretend there is something wrong with pursuing a brutal oppressor for war crimes through the proper channels - that is, the ICC - while talking peace, is absurd. No peace is sustainable unless it’s underpinned by international law and justice.
So a week ago I sent a ‘press enquiry’ to the Palestinian Embassy in London, addressed to Ambassador Hassassian. It said:
“What is the PA/PLO doing, please, to regularise its position regarding the ICC statute and satisfy any remaining requirements for exercising its membership rights and bringing charges against Israel for its crimes?
“What still remains to be done and why the continuing delay after the international community cleared the way and unpgraded Palestine’s status?”
No reply, no acknowledgement, despite follow-up phone messages. Silence speaks volumes and is par for the course when dealing with Palestinian officials.
However, I’ve heard it said that Abbas promised Kerry not to seek justice through the ICC during the nine months or more the going-nowhere peace talks will be... well, going nowhere. That takes us by my reckoning to May next year, or beyond. And he gave the undertaking without wringing from the Israelis a corresponding promise to halt settlement planning, construction and enlargement.
Welcome to the Palestinian School of Appeasement.
Stuart Littlewood is a marketing specialist turned writer-photographer in the UK. He is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation.