WASHINGTON WATCH: The new Israeli-Palestinian front: Lawyers and lobbyists

By
January 7, 2015 21:12
The Hague

The entrance of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is seen in The Hague. (photo credit: REUTERS)

My lawyers are smarter than your lawyers.

That’s the battle cry in the diplomatic intifada the Palestinians are waging against Israel. And the Israeli government, equally disinterested in finding real solutions to the conflict, is blustering about retaliating in kind – something guaranteed to worsen the damage caused by this latest Palestinian folly.

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The Palestinian Authority, frustrated with its failure to win UN Security Council approval for its bid to bypass the peace table and impose a settlement on Israel – and with the Netanyahu government’s equal distaste for genuine negotiations – has decided to go to court. It has applied to join the International Criminal Court – Israel and the United States are not members – with the clear threat of filing war crimes charges against the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is firing back on several fronts, as he courts the votes of the settlers and hard-liners who oppose Palestinian statehood. For starters he froze $127 million in tax transfers owed to the PA, an act which a top Palestinian official called “a war crime” and the right-wing Israeli president and leftist opposition leaders as well as the State Department criticized as harming Israel’s own interests.

The PM is also threatening other measures. In an opening salvo, he is calling out his really big guns: his lobbyists.

In addition to lawyers going to The Hague to file their own war crimes charges against the Palestinians, Netanyahu is dispatching a phalanx of lobbyists to Washington to convince a sympathetic Congress and the Obama administration to halt its $400m. in annual aid to the PA.

Among the first to heed the call for a cut in Palestinian aid was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee. All US aid to the PA “must be immediately suspended,” she declared.

“There will be consequences” for PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s “schemes.” In addition, she called for Congress to block funds to the United Nations and any UN agency that “recognizes a non-existent State of Palestine.” Abbas’s ICC tactic is “destructive” and evidence he is “not a real partner for peace,” she charged.

The ICC application could trigger a provision in the omnibus government funding bill that became law last month.

It halts economic support to the PA if “the Palestinians initiate an International Criminal Court judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.” The bill does not give the president the usual waiver authority to bypass it.

This opens the way for the Republicans, who control both chambers of the Congress, to claim their party is the better friend Israel than the Democrats and the Obama administration, although any Congressional moves against the Palestinians will have strong Democratic support.

The State Department called the Palestinian ICC decision “counterproductive” and warned it would have “implications” for US aid. The move “badly damages the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace.”

Arab states have promised to make up the shortfall in aid, but experience has shown there’s a huge gap between making the pledge and sending the check.

Israeli officials are also talking about filing lawsuits against PA President Mahmoud Abbas, various other officials and the PA in courts around the world, starting in the United States.

Abbas and his Fatah/PA leadership, by creating a unity government, have “formed an alliance with the Hamas war criminals,” Netanyahu charged, and must be held accountable for the 4,562 rockets fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians during last summer’s war.

Undaunted, Abbas has vowed to resubmit the statehood bid to the Security Council, forcing another confrontation with an American administration increasingly frustrated and angered by his tactics and intransigence.

The PA’s decision to go to the ICC, according to Prof. Eugene Kontorovich of Northwestern University, an expert on international law, violates two specific Palestinian commitments from the Oslo Accords: “to not seek a final status determination outside of negotiations, and giving Israeli exclusive jurisdiction over Israeli nationals in the territories. The Oslo Accords were an internationally guaranteed agreement, so at best the ICC effort is born in illegality.”

Ambassador Dennis Ross, the former US Middle East peace envoy, aptly pointed out that all the “Palestinian charges and Israeli counter-charges [will] not alter the reality on the ground.” Palestinians prefer an imposed solution that will free them from having to make any concessions and compromises, he said, suggesting, “their approach is neither about two states nor peace.”

It is unclear why Abbas has chosen to bolster the Israeli hard-liners who reject Palestinian statehood and undermine the doves as the country heads to elections just 10 weeks away.

Abbas and other top PLO officials have once again – for the umpteenth time – threatened the PA may decide to retaliate against Israel by closing shop.

That would delight a lot of Netanyahu’s allies who would like to move in and annex all the territory, but it is unrealistic. Abbas and his cronies would lose their satraps and perks, but most of all they’d lose the international funding that keeps them in power and the PA functioning.

International donors would stop sending them money.

Israeli officials and pro-Israel lobbyists in Washington will be pressing friendly members of Congress to sanction the PA by blocking aid and other measures in retaliation for its ICC move and to resist administration calls not to topple the PA and make way for a Hamas takeover. Netanyahu would personally relish an opportunity to force a confrontation with Obama that would allow his Republican friends to paint the president as soft on the Palestinians.

“The Palestinian Authority has chosen confrontation with Israel and we will not sit idly by,” declared General Netanyahu as he mobilized his army of lawyers and lobbyists.

The exchanges of threats are diversions by two leaders who seem more intent on keeping their conflict going than finding ways to resolve it.


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