Israel has decided to take revenge on the Palestinian Authority for daring to apply for membership in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. After a round of consultations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided on the first part of the punishment: freezing the transfer of some 500 million shekels ($128 million) in tax revenues that Israel has collected on the PA’s behalf and that belong to the Palestinians. Senior government officials were quick to announce that this was only the first step, and that “a broader, more significant response will come later.”
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Israel is in the midst of an election season, and Netanyahu wants to demonstrate that he is tough on the Palestinians in order to win more votes for his party. Few things are more popular in Israel than making life harder for the Palestinians. But the actions of the prime minister must be guided not only by electoral populism but also by political wisdom. And even if we ignore the fact that the confiscated funds don’t belong to Israel, it’s impossible not to be outraged by the government’s response.
The Palestinians turned to the ICC out of an understandable despair. After Israel brought down the peace talks by failing to keep its promise to release prisoners, the Palestinians were left with two options in their battle against the occupation: either violence, or recourse with the international community. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chose the latter.
After Israel and the United States thwarted his attempt to pass a UN Security Council resolution setting a deadline for ending the occupation, Abbas was left with the choice of either applying to the ICC or throwing up his hands and giving up the path of nonviolent struggle. Abbas chose the former.
The Palestinian application to the ICC is uncomfortable for Israel. But those who fear it now should have considered the implications before they pushed Abbas into a corner. In any case, despite the embarrassment Israel is liable to suffer in The Hague, the application is still a nonviolent, political move, whose impact Israel can mitigate greatly if it conducts its own investigation into suspected war crimes.
But over all this hovers the question of where the punishments imposed by Israel will lead. Does Israel want to see the PA collapse? Has it taken into account the impact its action will have on the PA’s faltering economy?
Revenge and punishment aren’t a policy. And they most certainly aren’t a smart policy.