During a meeting in Ramallah this week, Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s president, said, “The ugly and grotesque Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people must be stopped.” He added, “We ask the world to support us in seeking justice, and from now on we will study all our options to reach this purpose.”
That is typical talk from the PA. For years now, the authority has been studying “all our options” — without holding Israel to account.
Abbas’ statement isn’t the only thing being discussed in the Palestinian media. Another popular news item relates to how the PA is asking Switzerland to convene an international conference on respecting international law. All signatories of the Geneva conventions would be invited.
At first glance, this may appear to be an important initiative. Yet it is really a symbolic step, rather than something that would seriously challenge Israel’s impunity.
With the urgency of the situation in Gaza, the PA should be thinking about more than symbolic gestures.
Given that Abbas has vowed to fight Israel by means of international law, it is surely time that the PA seeks immediate access to the International Criminal Court so that Israel can be prosecuted for war crimes.
Israel is worried
There are indications that the Israeli establishment is worried by the prospect of the PA putting the occupied West Bank and Gaza under the ICC’s jurisdiction.
A recent article in The New Republic suggests the anxiety is quite real. Based on interviews with participants in the “peace” talks chaired by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, it recounts how Benjamin Netanyahu “froze” when an aide told him that Abbas had “just signed 15 UN conventions.”
The reason for the Israeli prime minister’s anxiety, according to The New Republic, was that he feared the Rome Statute of the ICC was one of them.
Nothing to lose
Since “Palestine” was given “observer state status” by the UN in 2012, the PA has been entitled to ratify the Rome Statute. Why hasn’t it done so yet?
Ratification would allow the PA to sue Israel for war crimes committed after July 2002, when the ICC formally came into effect.
Saleem al-Saqqa, the PA’s justice minister, and Ismail Jabr, the Gaza court public prosecutor, filed a complaint against Israel to the ICC last week. Yet this step could prove futile, considering that the ICC does not yet have any jurisdiction over Gaza and the West Bank.
An Associated Press article reminds us that Abbas gave several governments an assurance in 2012 that he would not seek access to the ICC.
In the two years since then, the “peace process” has failed utterly. Israel has entrenched the occupation by expanding its settlements in the West Bank. The people of Gaza are being subjected to an all-out attack for the third time in less than six years.
The PA has nothing to lose, then, by ratifying the Rome Statute. There is no “peace process” to value and protect.
With his hostility to the Palestinian “national unity government” and the influence wielded by bellicose, right-wing Israeli politicians over his government, the likelihood of Netanyahu rushing back to negotiations with Abbas is slim.
Ensuring that Israel is prosecuted has never been more vital. The PA has ran out of excuses for its inaction.