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Experts Warn House Committee That Palestinian Court Gambit is Undermining Peace Efforts

The Palestinian bid to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) is damaging to the peace process and must be stopped, four expert witnesses told the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday. The four witness were Jonathan Schanzer, Vice-President for Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Eugene Kontorovich, professor at Northwestern University School of Law; Danielle Pletka, Senior Vice President of the American Enterprise Institute; and David Makovsksy, Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Schanzer’s published testimony (.pdf) focused on the “Palestine 194” plan,  which is “shorthand for their push to become the 194th state at the United Nations.” He noted that the bid by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to join the ICC is “the latest manifestation—perhaps the culmination” of this campaign, which the PA “has waged for ten years.”

Schanzer noted that one of the reasons Secretary of State John Kerry launched an effort to get Israel and the PA to negotiate was in order to derail the Palestinian campaign. PA President Mahmoud Abbas promised to hold off on the campaign while negotiations were ongoing, but “it was a promise they would not keep,” when in April of last year Abbas announce that the PA “would join 15 international organizations and conventions.”

Israel objects to the Palestine 194 campaign and the ICC bid, as Schanzer explains, “because both are violations of the Oslo Accords.”

Kontorovich echoed Schanzer’s concerns in his published testimony (.pdf), observing:

On the diplomatic front, the Palestinian Authority’s ICC bid represents a rejection and termination of negotiations with Israel as the exclusive method of determining all “final status” issues. That repudiates what has been for decades central pillar of U.S. diplomacy with regards to the conflict. Moreover, it represents a violation of two provisions of the Oslo Accords: not to seek a final determination of the status of disputed territory outside of negotiations, and exclusive Israeli jurisdiction over its nationals in the West Bank. The Palestinians are asking to have both their statehood and borders declared by the ICC, without Palestinian compromise or Israeli consent, and to give to the Court a jurisdiction over Israeli civilians that the PA does not possess. As the guarantor of the Oslo Accords, the U.S.’s diplomatic credibility with its allies, and in the [Middle East] Peace Process, depends on responding to this breach.

In her testimony (.pdf), Pletka spelled out the PA’s ultimate goal if the ICC bid is successful:

What Palestinian leaders want from the ICC ultimately is international criminal indictments, not just of individual members of the IDF and Israeli intelligence services, but most importantly, the national leadership of Israel—both its democratically elected leaders and its top military commanders and other officials of its security ministries. They want the Court to indict such officials and turn them into international fugitives, unable to leave Israel for fear of arrest. Their aim is to both harass them as individuals, and to delegitimize Israel by establishing as a fact that many of its top leaders have been indicted for war crimes and are being harbored by the Israeli government from international justice. So this has to be regarded as a serious escalation by the Palestinians.

Makovsky pointed out in his testimony (.pdf) that Israel is perfectly justified in its anger at this move:

The net effect of this Palestinian approach is to lead to a further deterioration in the relationship between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Abbas. It is hard to negotiate with someone when you want the world to equate him with Serbia’s Milosovec.

In different ways, each of the experts alluded to another reason the United States must forestall the Palestinian ICC bid: To protect the United States and its citizens from similar efforts. If the PA is allowed to move forward with its efforts to indict Israeli officials and soldiers, in the words of Kontorovich, “Such decisions would set precedents that could then be used aggressively against US troops and officials, who are already the subject of an examination by the Prosecutor.”

Answering a question from Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen ( R-Fla.), Schanzer addressed another critical issue with regard to the Palestinian campaign to avoid negotiating with Israel.

“Basically, what we are talking about, is conditioning our aid, which is something we have not done. We basically need to demand good governance on the part of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority itself though, I should note, is not the problem, they are basically a bureaucratic, functionary government that’s making sure that sewage and electricity and water flows. We are really concerned here with the decision-making of a few cronies of Mahmoud Abbas, within the PLO and the Fatah faction. They should be the subject of any subsequent investigation.”

[Photo: House Foreign Affairs Committee / YouTube ]