The Palestinian Authority is not a country, but rather a group allied with a terrorist organization, and for that reason its appeal to the International Criminal Court should be rejected out of hand, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday. Netanyahu’s comment came at the end of an interministerial meeting he convened in Tel Aviv to discuss ways to combat the Palestinian Authority’s signing of the Rome Statute and its intention of bringing Israelis to the court on war crimes charges. “We expect the International Criminal Court to completely reject the hypocritical act by the Palestinian Authority, because the Palestinian Authority is not a state. It is an entity in an alliance with a terrorist organization, Hamas, that commits war crimes,” he said.
The ICC gambit follows the Palestinian Authority’s failed effort at the United Nations Security Council to obtain recognition as a state. That effort resulted in part from the Obama administration’s malfeasance. Former ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton writes:
A firmer U.S. strategy might have prevented the dilemma from arising. The White House’s opening diplomatic error was in sending strong signals to the media and U.S. allies that Mr. Obama, wary of offending Arab countries, was reluctant to veto any resolution favoring a Palestinian state. Secretary of State John Kerry took pains not to offer a view of the resolution before it was taken up. Such equivocation was a mistake because even this administration asserts that a permanent resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict requires direct negotiations and agreements among the parties themselves.
No draft resolution contrary to these precepts should be acceptable to the U.S., or worth wasting time on in the diplomatic pursuit of a more moderate version. This American view, advocated for years and backed by resolute threats to veto anything that contradicted it, has previously dissuaded the Palestinians from blue-smoke-and-mirror projects in the Security Council.
As bad as the administration has been, however, responsibility for these antics rests squarely with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “Palestinians continue to be plagued by poor leadership. Being unable to get nine votes in the Security Council; losing when they might have won by delaying a month; energizing American opposition to their actions—all to join an organization where they are actually far more at risk than Israel,” observes former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams. “The Fatah leadership in Ramallah is not brave enough to face down Hamas and make peace, nor brave enough to face their own people in an election. So they go for these gyrations in New York instead, hoping to fool Palestinians into thinking these charades constitute courageous action.”
The Palestinian Authority’s repudiation of bilateral negotiations as the route to a peace settlement leaves President Obama, who has sought at every turn to blame Israel for the breakdown in the “peace process,” with egg on his face. Not only could Obama not restrain allies such as France and Jordan from proceeding on the U.N. Security Council proposal, but also the Palestinian Authority is entirely unresponsive to his pleas to return to the bargaining table, despite all his coddling.
All of this leaves the Palestinian people no better off, and arguably worse. The Obama administration will be under pressure to limit support to the Palestinian Authority and to exit from any international organization that accepts the Palestinian Authority. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies notes: “The idea now is to sow fear among Israelis that the threat of war crimes lingers. But it’s still unclear whether the PA has a case, let alone standing.” The move will have no effect on Israel nor improve the Palestinian Authority’s bargaining position, he warns. “The Israelis are not cowering. The Palestinian street is not impressed. The international community has grown weary of these diplomatic stunts,” he says. “Ultimately, there is little choice for the PA but to return to the tough slog of negotiations.”
Abbas will not do this, however. The international theatrics are a sign that he is unable to move forward to a positive way on behalf of Palestinians, who will discover that none of his machinations bring them any closer to a state. Michael Makovsky of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a pro-Israel group, observes that Abbas “feels weak domestically versus Hamas and compelled to bolster his hardline creds.” Makovsky speculates that Abbas might actually want “to abet the Israeli right’s chances in March parliamentary elections, because–he believes–it could lighten pressure on him to make hard choices.” Whatever the thinking, “None of these inferences are encouraging for a lasting deal and the US should pressure Abbas to change course,” says Makovsky.
Frankly, this mess was entirely foreseeable and inevitable once Obama began parroting the Palestinian Authority’s line that it was ready for peace, that Israel had to be bullied and that Israeli building stood in the way. How could the Palestinian Authority be less intransigent than the president of the United States? How could Abbas stop inciting violence and distance himself from Hamas if the president kept saying that he was already a “partner for peace”?
Obama came into office with the misguided belief that the United States had been too close to Israel (which under President George W. Bush had withdrawn from Gaza, lifted checkpoints and agreed not to expand the footprint of settlements). Instead, Obama cozied up to the Palestinian Authority, encouraging its worst instincts and making bilateral negotiations more difficult. If nothing else, Abbas has demonstrated yet again how disastrous the Obama-Hillary Clinton-John Kerry Middle East foreign policy has been. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how things could get any worse — unless, of course, Iran gets the bomb.