Arab League chief calls for special court to try Israel

Palestinians will also hold off on UN move against Israeli settlements

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Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi called Thursday for a special criminal court to be set up for Israel, at a meeting to condemn an announcement that it will never return the Golan Heights.

Delegates to the 22-member Arab bloc based in Cairo are expected to pass a resolution denouncing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge Sunday that the occupied Golan Heights would remain Israeli “forever.”

Israel occupied the Golan during the 1967 Middle East war with Syria, Egypt and Jordan, and annexed it in 1981, in a move never recognized by the international community.

Israeli media have reported that Netanyahu organized a cabinet meeting in the Golan -- where he made the pledge -- amid fears Israel could come under pressure to return the area as part of a future peace deal for its war-torn neighbor.

Israel was acting like “a country that is above the law and accountability,” Arabi told delegates at the start of the Arab League meeting.

He demanded “a special criminal court for the Palestinian cause,” along the lines of international tribunals set up to try ex-officials of “the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Cambodia and Sierra Leone.”

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Cairo and delegate to the Arab League, Ahmed Qattan, accused Israel of trying to profit from the conflict in Syria.

“The Zionist entity is exploiting the years of crisis in Syria,” he said.

With Syria suspended from the League, its 21 other members on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution condemning Israel and asking the UN Security Council to force Israel to submit to international law and UN resolutions.

The text of the resolution referred to Netanyahu’s “aggressive statements” on Sunday and “Israel’s repeated attempts to impose the status quo in order to annex” the Golan.

The Palestinian foreign minister also said Thursday that a push for a UN resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement expansion will be put on hold to focus instead on a French proposal for a peace conference.

The draft resolution was circulated to Arab countries and to some members of the Security Council earlier this month as part of a drive for UN action in support of the two-state solution.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said the draft would be shelved to focus instead on the French initiative, which provides for a first ministerial meeting in Paris on May 30.

“We have agreed that our move at the Security Council should not jeopardize in any way the French initiative,” Maliki told reporters in New York following talks between president Mahmud Abbas and Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi, who chairs the council this month.

“We should really sail smoothly in a way that the French initiative will continue,” he said, adding that the Palestinians would decide on formally presenting the draft text at a later time.

Diplomats said that France, Egypt and Saudi Arabia had discouraged the Palestinians from moving ahead with the proposed measure that would have put pressure on the United States to resort to a veto.

The Security Council failed in 2011 to adopt a draft resolution condemning Israeli settlements after the United States vetoed it.

Earlier this month, Abbas said there was an “urgent” need for a UN resolution on Israeli settlements to salvage the two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine would be both recognized.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in Paris that the May meeting will prepare an international summit to be held in the second half of 2016, which would include the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been frozen since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.

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