After the victory of Benjamin Netanyahu in the Israel elections last month, one would have expected the Palestinians to have given up all hope of an independent Palestine State. But such is their zeal to fight for their legitimate rights that their motivation levels have not dipped. Even small occasions and victories count for them. One such occasion was on Monday when the Palestinians celebrated the 39th Land Day. The Land Day (or Yom al-Ard) is commemorated to mark one of the first political resistances by Palestinians in Israel against Tel Aviv’s plans to expropriate land from Palestinian villages. Wednesday provided another opportunity when the Palestine flag was hoisted at The Hague, after it became a formal member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). “It is a very important step for Palestine...Israel will now take care to think twice before attacking us because now we can go to the ICC,” Adnan Abu Alhaijaa, the Palestinian ambassador to India said.
Palestine’s ICC membership in itself will not bring about an immediate change in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The membership, however, gives Palestine the chance to approach the international court to investigate ‘war crimes’ by Israel. The ICC’s jurisdiction dates back to June 13 last year and thus it covers the Israel-Gaza war last July-August.
Israel, understandably, has not welcomed this development. In fact, Palestine’s ICC membership, if not dealt with carefully, could further heighten tension between the two states. “The move will not have any positive outcome as they might want to and this will not promote whatsoever an agreed and peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict as it should have,” Assaf Moran, counsellor at the political division of the Israel embassy in New Delhi, said.
One of the positives from Palestine approaching the ICC is that it will restrain Israel from its alleged use of indiscriminate force in Gaza and give a new lease of life to the peace process. “Palestine’s move is aimed at securing Israeli participation in the ICC...The fact that they are willing to subject themselves to international law, while Israel is not, reinforces the moral position of the Palestinians that they have not been indulging in any kinds of acts that the Israelis have been indulging in against them,” says former minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, a keen observer of the region.
The membership will also help check extremist groups within Gaza. During the attack last summer several missiles were fired from Gaza into civilian areas in Israel. “Going to the ICC puts pressure on extremist Palestinians because their attacks on Israel will also be under scrutiny,” says Aftab Kamal Pasha, a professor at JNU and a West Asia specialist.
It’s unlikely that the Arab nations will rejoice at Palestine’s ICC membership. After all, only four of the 22-Arab League members are formal ICC members. Moreover, the Arab world is so caught in its own web of complications that the Palestinian issue is unlikely to catch its attention: The Islamic State (IS) is wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria and trying to extend its footprint in West Asia to establish an Islamic Caliphate; Iran is gaining ground in Iraq and is close to sealing a nuclear deal with the West, and, the geopolitics in West Asia is set for a tectonic shift with the United States considering pulling out of the region.
In the recently-concluded Arab League summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, Palestine was discussed but the assurances about support to Palestine (and pressure on Israel) are most likely to remain on paper. The summit also assured financial aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) if Israel blocked its tax revenues. In the 2010 Kuwait summit, a monthly aid of $100 million to the PA was decided in the event of Israel blocking tax funds. From last December Israel has blocked tax revenues but the Arab League did not give the promised $100 million to the PA.
The ICC membership is a small but an important step towards Palestine’s ambitions for an independent state. Israel should respond to this in a positive manner and it along with Palestine should not waste this opportunity to pave the way towards peaceful co-existence.