x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Palestinians should use all their options

With peace talks faltering, the Palestinians should use the option of holding Israel to account by joining the International Criminal Court

One analogy used to describe the peace process is two people negotiating over a pizza while one of them is eating it. After eight months of talks, the Palestinians’ main gain has been the release of a few dozen long-term prisoners, at the cost of Israel approving thousands of new homes for settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

It’s no surprise that Israel wants the talks to continue. Remaining at the negotiating table allows it to project the image of seeking peace when the real agenda is to continue eating the pizza, in the form of land intended to become the Palestinian state and its capital. The question is: what do the Palestinians realistically stand to gain, especially when they approach the negotiations in such a weak position?

However the Palestinians have powerful options they have so far refrained from using. These include joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) and endorsing the informal BDS (boycott, divestment and sanction) campaign. Proof of the power of these options can be seen in the vehemence with which both Israel and the United States have sought to dissuade the Palestinians from making use of them.

If the Palestinians join the ICC, Israel’s actions would come under the scrutiny of The Hague rather than being investigated internally. An Amnesty International report released in February identified the unlawful killing of 45 Palestinians, including six children, by the Israeli Defence Force in the West Bank in 2011-13. The report said none posed a threat to soldiers and several incidents were prima facie war crimes, but only one IDF soldier has been successfully prosecuted, receiving a partially suspended 12-month jail term and a reduction in rank.

Israel is equally concerned about the BDS campaign gaining ground and threatening its export-orientated economy, to the point of passing a law in the Knesset making support for it illegal. Similar sanctions in South Africa have been credited with a major role in compelling the state to abandon apartheid.

The Palestinian Authority applied this week to join the Geneva Convention, which will apply to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, in response to Israel reneging on its promise to release the final batch of 26 prisoners. It ought to proceed with ICC and BDS too, so Israel is held to proper account for its actions.