WASHINGTON – The Israeli government needs to be prepared for the Palestinians to take action against it at the International Criminal Court, Israel’s top US envoy said Wednesday afternoon, as tensions mount between the parties over settlement construction in the West Bank.
Disagreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel have been intensifying in the wake of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s successful bid for non-member state recognition at the UN last month. That recognition gives the Palestinians the ability to try to take Israel to the ICC.
The day after the UN vote, Israel announced fresh plans for construction in the sensitive E-1 corridor between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. The US has also strongly objected to the plan to develop E-1.
Even so, the US also opposes Palestinian moves against Israel at the ICC, which they have been threatening case over the settlement expansion.
“We have to prepare for the possibility that they will take that step,” Ambassador to US Michael Oren said. “We can’t discount it.”
In conversations with his American interlocutors, Oren is stressing that the plans for construction in the E1 corridor are preliminary and that the Israeli government would like to see a peace deal with the Palestinians in place before building there takes place.
“The Israeli government felt a need to signal to the Palestinians that if they were going to take unilateral steps we too could take unilateral steps, but we’re doing it in a preliminary way,” he said. “The plans for E-1 are preliminary and they will take several years to implement.”
During that time, he said, “our hope still remains that the Palestinians will come to the negotiating table.”
Oren expressed disappointment not only with the Palestinians for going to the UN, but with the European countries who didn’t oppose their move, and said that was particularly because the Palestinian step violated the Oslo Accords to which the Europeans were witnesses.
“We were disappointed that the Europeans supported motions which contradicted their own policies and which set back peace,” Oren said.
At the same time, Oren had some positive words for the Egyptian leadership, which has helped to broker a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel after fighting in the Gaza Strip in November.
“We think the Egyptians played a constructive role in achieving that ceasefire,” he said.
Oren described Israel as have delivered “a very severe blow to Hamas” during that conflict, not only to their leadership and infrastructure but also to their arsenal, which he estimated had been reduced to 5,000 rockets.
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