The Palestinian leadership is caught on the horns of a dilemma.
Since being granted ‘non-member observer state’ status by the UN General Assembly in November 2012, the Palestinian authority has given the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction over its territory.
This would give the ICC the power to judge crimes on Palestinian land by all parties, whether it’s those who fire rockets into Israel, or Israel’s appropriation and settlement of Palestinian land, as well as the use of torture and indiscriminate attacks on its people.
Set against this is the threat from Israel of unspecified retaliation if the Palestinians seek justice through the ICC, a threat strongly backed up by the US.
Indeed, the US has said that any attempt to apply internationally-recognised and standards of justice by the Palestinians would destroy any chance of peace.
Given the choice of two evils the Palestinian leadership is presented with, it’s not surprising they are taking their time to decide.
However, given that Israel is using this hiatus as an opportunity to steal more Palestinian land for colonisation and development, there will surely come a time when the Palestinians have nothing else to lose. After all, their deaths might as well be the subject of ICC hearings as shrouded in silence or obscured by Israel’s PR machine.
The US threat represents quite possibly the greatest betrayal by Barack Obama’s administration. He came to power in 2008 promising to make the search for a just Middle Eastern peace a priority. But this was always going to be a tough task and, like most of his predecessors, his policy perspective has been hopelessly dependent on Israel’s agenda.
As Bill Van Esveld, of the Ma’an News Agency, writes in this article, Why Palestine should seek justice at the International Criminal Court:
The ICC’s statute categorises the ‘direct or indirect’ transfer of civilians by an occupying power into occupied territory – like the Israeli government’s transfer of Jewish citizens into the settlements – as a war crime.
Another war crime under the statute is the ‘forcible transfer’ of protected people in an occupied territory off their lands, such as by demolishing their homes and preventing them from returning.
Since Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to power in 2009, construction has begun on 8,575 settlement homes. Israeli demolitions during the same period left more than 4,000 Palestinians homeless. Both trends are accelerating. There were 1,708 settlement housing starts in the first half of 2013, up by 70% over the same period in 2012, and demolitions have left 933 Palestinians homeless so far this year, up from 886 in all of 2012.
Palestinian leaders have said they would seek ICC jurisdiction at the present time if – and, apparently, only if – Israel builds settlements in the so-called E1 area just east of Jerusalem, which many analysts say would effectively cut the West Bank in half.
But settlement-building is not only relevant to a future two-state solution: it takes a terrible, daily toll on people’s lives. Israel has granted settlements jurisdiction over 39% of the entire West Bank, making those areas off-limits to Palestinians who own land there or traditionally had access for farming and raising livestock.
Meanwhile, as an Israeli rights group recently reported, the area used for settlement agriculture has increased by 35% since 1997, to 9,300 hectares. Some Palestinian farmers have no recourse but to lease land from settlers, who got it from Israel for free.
Of course, a just peace is exactly not what the US is seeking. Though Israel is a voracious and aggressive rogue state, the US considers it an important strategic ally, despite the poisonous effect it has on relations with nations across Asia. As a result, Israel acts with impunity – the forcible resettlement of the Bedouin as part of Israel’s latest land grab, being a case in point.
Consequently, Israel has achieved its position through an economic enterprise and military force underwritten largely by the US, and supported by corporations unconcerned with human rights issues – such as Caterpillar – and happy to profit from the misery and oppression of others.
How ironic that the ‘Land of the Free’ has facilitated the destruction of a fledgling nation, and overseen the dehumanisation of an entire people and the wholesale theft of their land.