Israeli panic over ICC war crimes probe shows Palestinians the way forward

Israeli panic over ICC war crimes probe shows Palestinians the way forward
Comment: Israel's reaction to the investigation shows a deep-seated fear of the potential consequences of its oppression of the Palestinian people, writes Muhammad Shehada.
5 min read
30 Dec, 2019
Netanyahu criticised the decision to investigate as 'blatant anti-Semitism'. [AFP]
Earlier this month, the general prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, finally announced her decision to open an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), four years after the Palestinian Authority filed the case.

Despite the long delay, Bensouda's announcement has revived hopes among a despairing, abandoned and ever oppressed Palestinian population, that justice may yet be served.

At a time when Israel's unbridled war crimes in the oPt continue to go entirely unpunished - with the acquiescence of the international community - the ICC now has a mandate to put an end to this grim reality.

Strong deterrence

Israel's frantic reaction to the ICC's announcement was exactly as anticipated; delegitimise the court, attack its judge, dismiss the rules of the games and cry for help.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately played the "anti-Semitism" card against the Court, relying on a bizarre Biblical, rather than legal argument, and calling the court's independent investigation a "weapon in the political war against Israel".

A senior member of Israel's "New Right" party and former assistant foreign policy advisor to Netanyahu, Caroline Glick, recommended that "every Israeli representative everywhere in the world should be directed to attack the ICC at every opportunity… to delegitimise the ICC's very existence."

Glick further called for the US to use its "Hague Invasion Act" to forcefully intervene in Israel's favour if need be.

The world must put a price on such monstrosities, instead of continuing to give Israel a free pass

Israel's only legal defense isn't to deny committing war crimes, but rather to boast that its persistent assault on Palestinian self-determination renders it unsovereign, and thus ineligible for the ICC's consideration.

Interestingly, however, Israel's hysterical response to the ICC's announcement didn't stem from the usual position of arrogant confidence and blinding power; as was the case, for instance when Israel bullied Sweden for its recognition of the state of Palestine in 2014.

Rather, its reaction to the investigation reflects a deep-seated fear of the potential consequences of its never-ending oppression and subjugation of the occupied Palestinians, and failure to intimidate and bully the court into silence.

In fact, in its panic, Israel walked back some significant decisions. Foreign Minister Israel Katz announced last week that the long-promised demolition of the West Bank Bedouin village Khan Al-Ahmar would be delayed, over concerns it might serve as the "the last straw" for the ICC.

Moreover, Israel's inter-ministerial panel tasked by Netanyahu with planning the imminent annexation of the Jordan Valley, cancelled its first meeting last week and put the annexation plans in "deep freeze", fearing the ICC war crimes investigation.

In this sense, the ICC's decision has shattered Israel's image of invincibility and absolute impunity for whatever miseries it continues to systematically visit upon occupied Palestinians. In addition, it revives confidence in international law as an effective tool of deterrence and fighting oppression.

Other tools of pressure 

For decades, Palestinians have been told that their salvation lies in coming to the table with Israel, giving yet more concessions and engaging in endless direct "peace talks" as the only pathway to ending their unspeakable oppression.

After three decades of futile negotiations, however, Israel's panicked reaction to the ICC probe - compared to its constant rejectionism in peace talks - proves that its political leadership only deals in power; be it the power of law, the masses, popular resistance or international public opinion.

The ICC's decision sheds light on the way forward.

To deter Israel from further crushing the Palestinians and destroying their future, the world must put a price on such monstrosities, instead of continuing to give Israel a free pass.

In that sense, the US as Israel's closest ally and sole broker of the peace process must ensure there are consequences for Israel's unilateral assault on the two-state solution, by leveraging the $3.8 billion in unconditional aid it provides to Israel annually

It should go without saying that any future American president should condition this blank cheque on ending violations against Palestinians and making progress towards a solution to the conflict. Israel's reaction to the ICC probe shows the immense potential of doing so.

Additionally, the momentum the ICC's investigation has created should incentivise other international entities to take immediate action and situate themselves on the right side of history.

The ICC's decision has shattered Israel's image of invincibility and absolute impunity

For instance, UN Human Rights Council resolution 31/36 of 2016 obliges the High Commissioner to produce a database of all business enterprises engaged in certain Israeli settlement activity in the oPt. The database was supposed to be released in March 2017, but the incumbent Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has delayed the release of the list indefinitely, fulfilling the legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied.

The ICC's announcement gives Commissioner Bachelet the most opportune moment to release the list as an act of co-operation with the ICC's investigation into Israel's settlement activities.

Finally, at a moment where European countries including France, Germany and the UK have been bowing down to pro-Israeli lobbying groups and criminalising various forms of pro-Palestinian activism or critiques of Israel, the ICC's decision should refocus those countries' attention to the core problem of the occupation.

All it takes is the will and courage to take immediate action.

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights.

Follow him on Twitter: @muhammadshehad2

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.