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The PA’s defiance is uncharacteristic and inconsequential

The PA sent letters of accession to 15 international treaties and conventions, stirring anger in Israel

Sharif Nashashibi

Published: Updated:

Under the terms of the current negotiations, the Palestinian Authority would refrain from taking unilateral steps towards statehood, in return for Israel releasing 104 Palestinians prisoners in four batches. When Israel refused to release the fourth batch, the PA sent letters of accession to 15 international treaties and conventions. Besides the somewhat predictable outcome of Israel breaking the agreement, it is difficult to understand its anger at the PA.

The latter’s move is largely symbolic, and will likely have little if any effect on Israel. It seems even the pretence of defiance is unacceptable. Most of what the PA has decided to join are human rights conventions to which Israel is already a party - it just chooses to violate them, and does so with impunity. What changes now is that the PA must also respect them, which is no bad thing given its poor human rights record.

“These treaties and conventions... will enable the State of Palestine to be a responsible actor on the international stage,” the Negotiations Affairs Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization said in a press release. They are “vital to continued Palestinian institutional building, good governance and the upholding of human rights, all of which form the basis for an independent and sovereign State of Palestine.”

However, Israel is by far the biggest violator of Palestinians’ human rights. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the PA’s decision will extend to the 1.7 million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, which is run by Hamas. This represents half the total Palestinian population of the occupied territories, governed by a movement that has not signed on to these conventions and treaties.

In addition, Middle East Report editor Darryl Li points out that the PA has “agreed to expose Palestine to scrutiny as if it were a state,” although it “remains legally and effectively subordinated to the Israeli occupying power.

“When PA security forces torture political opponents in ‘coordination’ with Israel, which state should be held responsible in these international bodies? How can the PA’s performance in ensuring the right to housing be evaluated when Israel controls the import of all building materials?”

Li concludes that the PA’s move “carries the risk of artificially separating the very real conjoined collaboration between Israel and certain Palestinian elites and, worse, doing so in a manner that implies that they are equals.” This may lead to “obscuring the reality of occupation and colonization.”

Israel need not worry

Considering all this, when the NAD says that “these treaties and conventions will help to protect and promote basic rights of the Palestinian people,” they will do so in a limited way at best. Furthermore, since sending the accession letters, PA officials have been at pains to make conciliatory statements to Israel and its ally the United States, stressing the Authority’s commitment to negotiations.

Most of what the PA has decided to join are human rights conventions to which Israel is already a party - it just chooses to violate them, and does so with impunity

Sharif Nashashibi

This “despite the escalation of oppressive Israeli policies such as the killing of Palestinian civilians, settlement construction, raids on vulnerable communities, arbitrary arrests and detentions, home demolitions and the removal of residency rights,” wrote the NAD. In its daily actions, this is be being interpreted by Israel as: “keep killing us, colonizing us, attacking us, imprisoning us and dispossessing us, and rest assured we’re still willing to talk.”

PA President Mahmoud Abbas could not be clearer that Israel has nothing to fear from these accession letters, saying: “We don’t want to use this right to confront anyone.” God forbid. This is evidenced by the PA’s number and choice of what is has applied to, and more importantly, what it has not applied to.

The latter represents more than three-quarters of the 63 international organizations, treaties and conventions that the PA has repeatedly threatened to join since Palestine achieved upgraded U.N. status in Nov. 2012.

The ICC: empty threat?

I knew immediately, without having looked at the list of letters sent, that it would not include the International Criminal Court. This was undoubtedly the biggest prize of Palestine’s upgraded U.N. status, and the primary reason for the vehement Israeli and American opposition to it. Grant Rumley, a visiting fellow at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, described applying to the ICC as a “silver bullet.” Why is the PA not using it?

I put this question in an email to NAD spokesman Xavier Abu Eid five days before publication of this article. I did not get a reply, though I receive press releases from him almost daily.

I asked the same thing of chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, who replied succinctly: “I think you know the process, it’s due process with steps.” What he seems to be suggesting is that this is an initial step which will be used as leverage, and will, if or when necessary, eventually lead to the ICC.

The problem is that it has taken almost 18 months since the U.N. upgrade, and relentless Israeli violations, to sign up to less than a quarter of the 63 international organizations, treaties and conventions.

How long will it take, and what further injustices must Israel inflict on the Palestinians, before the PA says enough is enough? Will it ever go to the ICC, or is this an empty threat to be repeated ad nauseam but never carried out? Palestinians are not holding their breath, and judging by the PA’s dismal record in realizing their national aspirations, nor should they.

The Authority still clings hopelessly to a ‘peace process’ that British journalist and author Ben White describes as “more ‘threatened’ by the application of international law (Palestinians going to U.N. bodies) than by the violation of international law (Israeli settlement activity). Says a lot about what it’s all about: pacification, not peace.” When will the PA finally open its eyes and stop participating in, and contributing to, this charade?

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Sharif Nashashibi, a regular contributor to Al Arabiya English, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian, is an award-winning journalist and frequent interviewee on Arab affairs. He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. With an MA in International Journalism from London's City University, Nashashibi has worked and trained at Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme in Palestine, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus, and the Middle East Times, among others. In 2008, he received the International Media Council's "Breakaway Award," given to promising new journalists, "for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting on the highly emotive and polarized arena that is the Middle East." He can be found on Twitter: @sharifnash

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.