As expected, the decision by the International Criminal Court to begin investigating Palestinian claims of war crimes has elicited sharp responses in the United States and Israel. The prime minister and foreign minister declared that this was a hypocritical political decision, meant to harm Israel.
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Washington said it was “a tragic irony that Israel, which has withstood thousands of terrorist rockets fired at its civilians and its neighborhoods, is now being scrutinized by the ICC.” The State Department’s spokesman pledged that the U.S. would continue to oppose any actions taken by this court against Israel, since these would not further the cause of peace. The court’s in investigating Palestinian claims is also being called into question by Israel and the U.S., since only an entity that is a recognized state can appeal to this court.
Nevertheless, it is not juridical aspects or disputes over the court’s authority that is raising such a storm. Israel is concerned that the Palestinians will achieve through legal and diplomatic means what they could not achieve through negotiations. Judging by its response, Israel appears to prefer an armed intifada to an international process.
In contrast to a military confrontation in which Israel is assured the upper hand, in an internationally-mediated dispute Israel and the Palestinians have equal footing. Within such a framework Israel may lose its monopoly over managing the diplomatic process or over any other dealings with the Palestinian Authority.
Israel should not be surprised by the Palestinian appeal to the ICC. The Palestinians openly stated their intention of doing so even before requesting that the United Nations recognize a Palestinian state. The front along which Mahmoud Abbas has chosen to confront Israel presents a new strategy, diplomatic and not military, which will grant the Palestinians a status that is equal to that enjoyed by other states.
However, this front was not preordained. Israel could have avoided it had it realized in time that not all the cards were up its own sleeve, and if Israel had seriously addressed peace negotiations and strengthened Abbas, viewing him as a serious partner and abiding by its commitments to him, including prisoner release and refraining from unilateral steps such as settlement expansion.
The woeful cries coming from the Prime Minister’s Office are no substitute for a policy, and punitive measures against the Palestinians for pursuing a diplomatic struggle aimed at obtaining their rights can end up being yet another step that further deteriorates Israel’s international standing.