New Shift to the Right in Israel
New Shift to the Right in Israel
Is international pressure the last chance for a free Palestine?
By Tiny Kox
For the Palestinians, April 1, 2015 will be remembered as a historic day. On that day their country formally became the 124th member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. From now on, as a result, the ICC can investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed in the Palestinian territory. Good news? Certainly, but the bad news is that at the recent election Israel took a further shift to the right and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no further interest in a two-state solution.
The Palestinians have tried in the past to be admitted to the ICC. These attempts failed due to the unclear nature of Palestine’s status from an international perspective. Since 2012 the United Nations has recognised Palestine as an observer state, however. That proved sufficient to allow them to join the ICC too. All of the shrill protests from Israel and the United States have not been able to block Palestine’s admission. Neither has the Palestinian Authority succumbed to Israel’s financial blackmail, which involves refusing – since the application for admission to the Court - to pass on tax moneys collected in the Occupied Territories, a matter of some US$500 million, of which Palestine has sore need. In the eyes of the international community, Israel is in this once again guilty of a transgression of international law. Even President Obama has protested about this to his Israeli ally.
During the admission ceremony, which took place in The Hague on 1 April, Palestinian Foreign Minister Zaken Al-Malki called on Israel also to join the ICJ. The Court will, when it investigates crimes committed on Palestinian soil, include the rocket attacks against Israel. According to the Foreign Minister, Palestinian membership will move the world ‘a step closer to the end of an era of impunity and injustice’.
Searching for justice
For a long time, the Palestinian government hesitated as to whether it was the right time to apply for admission to the ICJ. As long as negotiations with Israel remained possible, and Tel Aviv deemed Palestinian participation in the Court unacceptable, President Abbas let the question lie. Following the latest Gaza war and the implacable language employed by Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu in the run-up to the recent parliamentary elections, the Palestinian President took the decision to go ahead. Formal application came on 1st January 2015, ninety days on from which his country could take its place as the ICJ’s 124th member.
During his visit to the Netherlands for this formal accession, Al-Malki said that his country would not rush to bring Israel before the Court, but that every step would be well thought out. ‘We are seeking justice, not revenge’, was how he put it.
Participation in international treaties has now become the central point of Palestinian policy. The country has already managed to gain recognition from most United Nations member states and is a member of UN organisations such as UNESCO. In the past President Abbas has signed more than twenty international treaties, his aim being to underline his country’s desire to become part of the global community, and to accept the obligations which derive from that. A number of these treaties involve the protection of human rights within signatories’ own territory, so that Palestinian citizens could bring complaints against their own government and enforce their rights. That’s also true in the case of the special partnership that the Palestinian parliament entered into in 2011 with the Council of Europe, the body in which all European countries are represented. In this agreement too, Palestine accepts responsibilities regarding human rights.
Stampede to the right
While accession to the ICJ was greeted with enthusiasm within the Palestinian Territory, there remains every reason to be extremely sceptical that a free Palestine is really in the offing. At the recent parliamentary elections in Israel, after all, there was a renewed stampede to the right, something which has occurred repeatedly over the past twenty years. Each new government has been more radically right wing than its predecessor. In this campaign the gloves were off, certainly where Netanyahu was concerned. In the run-up to March 17th’s elections, he announced that he would no longer work towards a two-state solution. As long as he was prime minister there was no question of any such thing, he promised the electorate. He also proposed the formal securing of the Jewish character of Israel in the text of the country’s constitution, a move which would in addition confirm the status of Palestinian inhabitants as second class citizens. Palestinians now form a fifth of the total population and such a law would mean their suffering still more discrimination than is already the case. Left and centre-right parties opposed such a discriminatory step but failed to muster the support of the majority of voters. Opinion polls predicted gains for the centre-left, but in the end Netanyahu’s party emerged victorious from the polling booths, and President Rivlin asked Netanyuhu to form a new government, which is expected to rely on support from the right and extreme right in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem. Left and centre parties will be able to achieve little there, which also applies to the Unity List. Supported by roughly 90% of IsraeI’s Palestinian inhabitants, the Unity List surprisingly came out of the elections as the third largest party. Within it, Arab parties are for the first time working together, and evidently with success. Even on the day of the elections, Netanyahu was warning of the danger of a strong Unity List, accusing left activists of ‘transporting Arabs to the polling stations in droves’. This provoked widespread criticism, including from party colleague President Rivlin, who said that it was shameful to see a high turnout as a threat, when in his view the opposite was the case. Once again Netanyuhu appeared insensitive to criticism. More than the feeblest of excuses – ‘I didn’t intend to hurt anyone.’ – was not forthcoming.
Now that the new Israeli government will probably see no need to make renewed negotiations with the Palestinians possible, the exertion of international pressure is perhaps the last chance to avoid losing sight completely of a free Palestine. In this, they are looking first and foremost to Europe, and more specifically to the European Union. President Abbas has always said that the EU should be contributing not only financially to Palestine and Israel, but more generally to the search for a solution acceptable to all sides. Following last year’s abortive American attempt to drag the stalled negotiations out of the doldrums, the Palestinians confirmed that in their opinion that the United States would never go far enough in their efforts to force Israel to the negotiating table. For the failure of this latest American attempt, the Israelis were almost universally blamed. Netanyahu made no serious attempt to come to an agreement with his Palestinian neighbours. He appeared primarily to be doing everything he could to damage President Abbas’s authority by sidelining him as a powerless opponent incapable of putting up any resistance to mighty Israel and its American ally. If Europe doesn’t get involved, there is, according to the Palestinians, no chance whatsoever of any movement on the part of the Israelis.
The newly –appointed European Union High Representative for Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini, made a convincing start to her role as the new force in the Middle East, giving a powerful speech in Gaza in which she positioned herself and the EU as enthusiastic supporters of a two-state solution. Since then her activism appears to have gradually given way to passivity. Mogherini’s initiative seems to have been taken over by the French government to the UN Security Council, which is working onto be a fresh resolution to bring before the UN Security Council. Paris has already made it known unofficially that in this they are trying to think of a text which will not immediately fall foul of an American veto. That will require concessions to be made in Israel’s direction, as this is what will create, once again, the greatest possible difficulty. According to Al-Malki and other Palestinian leaders, although it will be a difficult task to come up with such a text, their country has nothing to lose. On the Palestinian side the priority is that any resolution must include the division of the land according to the 1967 borders and an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory.
The Netherlands must speak out
The French government considers that if they are successful in arriving at an acceptable new resolution, other EU member states might be prepared to go along with their policy of being prepared to recognize Palestine as a fully-fledged state. Before things can get so far, a great deal of water must flow under the Jordan’s bridges. French negotiators have hatched a three-step plan: first, get a resolution through the Security Council, avoiding an American veto; next, organize an international peace conference, with a framework involving renewed negotiations, leading in the final stage to Germany, Spain and Italy joining them in recognizing the new state. The Netherlands is not named, which sums up the ever more limited role which our country appears to be playing when it comes to finding a solution to the conflict in the Middle East. During his trip to the Netherlands, Al-Malki expressed regret over this reduced involvement, saying that in his view the Dutch had long played an important role, in part because of our maintaining good relations with both parties. He expressed the hope that Koenders, a relative newcomer as Minister of Foreign Affairs, might renew this more active role. During a debate in the Senate, Koenders said that a slight change to our country’s stance was in the offing. While previously recognition of Palestine by the Netherlands would only have been possible at the end of the entire negotiating process, now the government would move to recognition if this could make a strategic contribution to finding a definitive settlement of the conflict. What this is worth in practice will probably emerge when the Netherlands pronounces on the new French initiative, as well as on possible other plans. Because despite the poor figure that the US cut during last year’s talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry appears still to be looking to play a lead role in finding a solution to the conflict. The French government is aware of this, as shown by remarks made by their Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to the effect that any and all activities in relation to this issue must be undertaken in close consultation with the United States as well as European neighbours and the Arab countries.
A great deal of activity, then, but also a great deal of reticence, in the international community and in Israel and Palestine. The elections in Israel have shown that many Israelis want to see the end of the near century-long conflict with their neighbours and prefer to concentrate their attention on other issues, such as an economy characterised by low growth, high rents, low wages and deteriorating public services. In Palestine, outrage is growing over the delay to any progress, especially among young people, who have had enough of the country in which they live being occupied – for half a century – by their neighbours while nobody, even amongst their own leaders, appears capable of doing anything to counter this scandal, or anything at least of any substance. This means that in the Palestinian areas – Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank – the situation is explosive.