Bad Choices

Why is the Netanyahu government freezing these funds in the first place?

Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mahmoud Abbas
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – backed by the senior Palestinian leadership – began the process of filing charges of “war crimes” against Israel in the International Criminal Court. Abbas’s move reveals once again Palestinians’ distorted understanding of justice.
The PA should be denouncing – or at the very least recognizing – Hamas’s responsibility for ruining Palestinians’ lives in the Gaza Strip, not delegitimizing Israel. Hamas fires rockets and mortars indiscriminately against Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians; Hamas channels limited infrastructure resources such as concrete and metal into the construction of attack tunnels instead of homes and businesses; and Hamas supports violent resistance to Israel “occupation” more than nine years after Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip.
Abbas has chosen to take the side of Hamas and defend it by concocting charges of “war crimes” against IDF soldiers.
These are the same IDF soldiers, by the way, who are working with Palestinian security officials on the West Bank to keep order and prevent Hamas from repeating the violent overthrow staged against the PA in 2007 in the Gaza Strip.
But petitioning the ICC is not just morally wrong, it is stupid.
Even if the ICC prosecutor decides to recognize the PA as a full member and accept its signature to the Rome Statute, Palestinians are unlikely to achieve much. Nick Kaufman, a lawyer specializing in international law that has served as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney at the ICC, told Army Radio on Sunday that, due to the backload of existing cases (relating to charges of war crimes in sub-Sahara Africa), even if the Palestinians are permitted to file charges, no cases will be brought before the ICC involving Israelis in the next five years.
While there is little to gain from turning to the ICC, much damage can be caused to Palestinian interests. By entering into a legal battle with Israel, Palestinians will invariably expose themselves to Israeli charges of war crimes perpetrated by Hamas; charges that are more likely to hold up in court, because they are true.
Also, by resorting to “lawfare” in an attempt to delegitimize Israel, Palestinians are striking another blow to the little remaining trust that remains between Israelis and Palestinians.
Without even a modicum of trust there is little chance the sides will ever succeed in reaching an agreement through negotiations.
Dedicating very finite Palestinian diplomatic energies to foolish escapades at the ICC is a remarkable display of callousness on the part of Abbas to his own people’s fate.
Instead of coping with the pressing problems faced by Palestinians – corruption, unemployment, political paralysis (legislative elections have not taken place since 2006, when Hamas won) – Abbas is embarking on a high profile but fruitless misadventure that does nothing to improve Palestinians’ lives. There are tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza who are homeless as a result of Israel’s retaliatory attacks after Hamas launched a violent offensive over the summer against Israelis in the South. Abbas should be devoting his energies to finding housing for these people during the cold winter months. He should be using the international effort to rebuild Gaza as an opportunity to reassert the PA’s influence there.
Meanwhile, Palestinian stupidity has been countered by an Israeli response nearly as stupid. Israel froze some NIS 500 million in tax collections belonging to the PA in response to Abbas’s decision to turn to the ICC. But Israel will eventually have to backtrack. While it might be distasteful to continue to facilitate the viability of the PA as its leaders take steps to bring criminal charges against IDF soldiers, the alternative is much worse.
The disintegration of the PA would lead to anarchy and the breakup of Palestinian security forces into lawless gangs armed with American military training and weapons.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups affiliated with Fatah would struggle for power. To restore order and prevent a repeat of the sort of Palestinian suicide bombings and shootings of early 2000, Israel would be forced to redeploy IDF forces in Hebron, Nablus, and Ramallah.
From a purely realpolitik perspective, Israel has a vested interest in keeping the PA afloat. Palestinians know this.
That’s why they are not terribly concerned by Israeli threats.
They know Israel will eventually unfreeze the NIS 500m. and that Israel cannot countenance the US Congress taking steps to block aid to the PA. So why is the Netanyahu government freezing these funds in the first place? The Palestinian leadership must stop trying to delegitimize Israel and start focusing on improving Palestinians’ lives. Meanwhile, Israel’s government should avoid the purely populist move of freezing PA tax funds, because it is nothing but that – a populist move that does nothing to advance Israeli interests.