Jan 06 2015

Netanyahu’s threats won’t sway Abbas

Published by at 11:02 am under Articles,Palestinian politics


By Daoud Kuttab

Both the content and the body language reflected a profound Israeli irritation. “We will not allow IDF soldiers and commanders to be hauled before the International Criminal Court [ICC] in The Hague,” said an angry Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the weekly Cabinet meeting on Jan. 4.

The response of the Israeli prime minister was accompanied by threats and punitive actions against Palestinians, including warnings that Israel would also prosecute Palestinians for war crimes and that the monthly customs taxes collected on behalf of Palestinians would not be turned over (the December 2014 transfer is about $127 million). For once, it seems that Palestinians got under Netanyahu’s skin.

The Palestinian leadership, of course, is not interested in the emotional state of Netanyahu or the Israelis, and the refusal to turn over Palestinian monies — called another war crime by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat — will certainly not sway Palestinians from their game plan.

This is not the first time that the Israelis have frozen the transfer of Palestinian taxes only to rescind their decision for fear that cutting off Palestinian funds could result in the collapse of the Palestinian government.

But the tit-for-tat that is taking place on the diplomatic and political scene is aimed at changing the rules of the game. For the first time in many years, the Palestinians appear to be executing a well-designed plan in which every action is calculated and reactions by the international community and Israel are factored into the calculations and tend to trigger further action.

Palestinian officials feel that they are taking the initiative and leading a process in which they can use all the assets and support that they have regionally and internationally to advance their cause, irrespective of what others think, say or do.

The current Palestinian plan began with the UN General Assembly recognition of Palestine as a nonmember state on Nov. 29, 2012. Long-term execution was delayed because of the nine months of unproductive talks and the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip. Palestinians reportedly had accepted a request by US Secretary of State John Kerry to delay any action until after the Nov. 4 midterm US elections. They are not willing, however, to offer similar accommodations to their occupiers or wait for the Israeli elections and the expected protracted post-election coalition negotiations.

For the Palestinian leadership, the game plan is not built on a single decision by the UN Security Council or even the ICC, as excellent as that would be. The real goal of the Palestinian leadership is to shake Israel out of its complacency and force it to act in sync with the international community and to negotiate on the basis of accepted international references.

In the Security Council, the strategy was clear and had factored in the possibility of not reaching nine votes or having the resolution vetoed. Forcing the members to vote both helped trigger the next move regarding joining the Rome Statute and at the same time built on popular support for Palestine taking place throughout the world. Having pocketed the key positive vote from permanent member France and European member Luxembourg — which will now be replaced by Spain — the Palestinian/Arab side will now consider attempting again to translate overwhelming international support into official recognition, as some of the members who voted against or abstained will be replaced by potentially more favorable members.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ aim is not to join the ICC or even charge Israel with war crimes. The goal is the need to go back to negotiations with a stronger political hand and the ability to press Israel to respond to the Palestinian desire for freedom of occupation and independence.

Abbas realized that for his strategy to work, he needed to neutralize Israeli attempts to attack him on the security front. The entire Palestinian strategy did not include any violence or incitement to violence so as to remove this thorny issue from the Israeli rhetoric. The Palestinian leadership succeeded in this area to the effect that even senior Israeli security officers publicly endorsed Abbas’ commitment on the security front.

Unlike his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, whose words and deeds were often not in sync, Abbas has telegraphed all his plans and has made friend and foe know what the triggers that will cause further actions are.

Having decided not to touch the ironclad security arrangement with Israel, the Palestinian leader felt he can carry out a strategic political plan that he hopes will eventually lead to a negotiated settlement that can end the decadeslong occupation.

For Abbas, the key now is to stay on course and not to allow any criticism or attacks to deviate him. The Israeli war on Gaza and the death of Palestinian Minister Ziad Abu Ein, during a nonviolent protest, sharply increased the internal pressure on the Palestinian leadership to speed up the process. However, Abbas refused to short circuit the process, thus sending a strong statement that he is a man of his word. The United States and Israel threatened him prior to going to the UN General Assembly and he stayed on course. He is now under similar pressure, but he will stay focused.

Abbas seems to have adopted the Arab saying “Fil harake baraka” (There is blessing in movement). Being proactive might help Abbas change the rules of the game with the aim of accomplishing the ultimate goal of ending the occupation. Israel’s prime minister might be angry and will make Palestinians pay a price for daring to take Israeli soldiers to the ICC. But if the Israelis do not want their soldiers and officers to be dragged to The Hague for war crimes, they have an alternative: ending their occupation of Palestine.

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