Is the Palestinian ICC gambit compatible with the EU call for a return to negotiations?

As reported by the EU: “The Quartet underlined the importance of the parties resuming negotiations as soon as possible."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas heads attends a joint meeting of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas heads attends a joint meeting of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Assuming it is possible to shift our attention for a few moments from the issues of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming speech before the US Congress and the Israeli elections to the more mundane Israeli-Palestinian peace process, two recent news items would appear to call for some comment.
The first is the February 7, 2015, Palestinian “Presidential Decree” issued by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, forming a 40-member national committee to collect evidence for the prosecution of Israeli leaders before the International Criminal Court (ICC) and setting aside considerable funding for this purpose (The Jerusalem Post, February 8, 2015). The second is the February 8 statement by the EU Quartet, issued in Munich (Jerusalem Post, February 9, 2015), calling for a resumption of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.
While the establishment by Abbas of his ICC preparation committee is in itself curious in light of the obvious dangers the ICC gambit engenders for both his own senior leadership and that of Hamas, what is even more curious is the fact that the person appointed to head this committee is none other than chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat, the “prime mover” of the Palestinian ICC venture.
The effort and funds being expended in pushing forward the legally doubtful Palestinian ICC gambit would appear to be utterly incompatible with the most recent EU Quartet statement calling for a resumption of the negotiations.
As reported by the EU: “The Quartet underlined the importance of the parties resuming negotiations as soon as possible, with a view to reaching a just, lasting and comprehensive peace on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the Madrid Principles including land for peace and the agreements previously reached between the parties.”
Surprisingly, the EU Quartet added: “A sustainable peace requires the Palestinians’ aspirations for statehood and sovereignty and those of Israelis for security to be fulfilled through negotiations based on the two-state solution. The Quartet will remain actively engaged in preparing for a resumption of the peace process in the coming period, including regular and direct outreach to Arab states. Pending the resumption of negotiations, the Quartet called on both parties to refrain from actions that undermine trust or prejudge final status issues.”
Clearly the question here, taking into consideration these two news items, is how can the Palestinians push for bringing Israeli leaders before the ICC on the one hand while on the other intimating to the world their desire to resume negotiations with those same leaders? That the person heading their ICC preparation committee is the chief Palestinian negotiator to both the US and the EU would alone seem to render this whole picture rather absurd. It begs the question: which Israelis does Erekat intend to negotiate with, if his aim is to have them all arrested for war crimes? It is perhaps high time that the international community faced the reality that the Palestinian leadership, in attempting to stem the rise of popular support for Hamas among its population, is resorting to this ICC gambit as a public relations exercise, blatantly deceiving themselves, their constituency and the international community.
Having issued their Quartet statement calling for the resumption of negotiations, and in light of their express intention to “remain engaged” in preparing for a resumption of such negotiations, one would expect that if they had an iota of genuine concern for the future of the peace process the senior Quartet representatives issuing the statement – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson (representing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon) – would have made it very clear to the Palestinian leaders that “they can’t have their cake and eat it, too.”
Perhaps even more apt is the classic quotation from the 1966 spaghetti Western film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: “When you have to shoot, shoot; don’t talk,” which, trasponsed into colloquial Middle East realpolitik terms would be: “If you’re gonna negotiate, negotiate; don’t prosecute.”
If the Quartet and the international community genuinely intend to encourage the resumption of the negotiating process, they cannot at the same time sit idly by and give even an indirect green light to Abbas and Erekat in their attempts to delegitimize Israel and its leadership. Clearly, by any accepted international and moral standard and code of negotiating conduct, the two just can’t go together.
It is therefore urgent, in light of these recent news items, that the Middle East Quartet act in a responsible and realistic manner to put a halt to the Palestinian abuse and manipulation of the naiveté and misplaced good will of the international community and its international juridical institutions, before the Palestinians go too far and cross the point of no return, preventing any possible resumption of negotiations.
The author is the former legal advisor of Israel’s foreign ministry and Israel’s former ambassador to Canada. He participated in the negotiation of the Oslo Accords. He is presently the resident international law expert at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.