Defying U.S. & Israel, Will ICC Membership Bring Justice to Stateless & Occupied Palestinians?

January 05, 2015
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Guests

Phyllis Bennis

fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She has written several books, including Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer and Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s United Nations.

Ali Abunimah

co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of the recent book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine.

In a move opposed by the United States and Israel, Palestinian leaders have submitted a request to join the International Criminal Court and sign over a dozen other international treaties. The Palestinian Authority says it will seek the prosecution of Israeli officials for war crimes in the Occupied Territories. In retaliation, Israel has halted the transfer of tax revenues needed to pay for Palestinian salaries and public services. The Palestinian Authority opted to join the ICC after the United States and Israel successfully lobbied against a U.N. Security Council measure calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2017. We are joined by two guests: Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of "Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer" and "Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s United Nations"; and Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of "The Battle for Justice in Palestine."


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In a move opposed by the United States and Israel, Palestinian authorities have submitted a request to join the International Criminal Court and sign over a dozen other international treaties. Riyad Mansour, the chief Palestinian observer at the United Nations, submitted the diplomatic documents on Friday, saying the Palestinian Authority will seek the prosecution of Israeli officials for war crimes in the Occupied Territories.

RIYAD MANSOUR: It is a peaceful option. It is a civilized option. It is an option that anyone who uphold the law should not be afraid of, and it is an option that we are seeking in order to seek justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power, the last group of them the more than 500 children in Gaza last summer, more than 3,000 children injured and thousand more of civilians killed and injured.

AMY GOODMAN: One day after the Palestinians moved to join the International Criminal Court, Israel announced it would withhold at least $127 million in tax revenue owed to the Palestinian Authority. The money is needed to pay salaries and provide public services. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Palestinian Authority of launching a confrontation with Israel.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] The Palestinian Authority has chosen to launch a confrontation with the state of Israel, and we are not sitting idly by. We will not allow the dragging of IDF soldiers and IDF commanders to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The ones who should face justice are the heads of the Palestinian Authority, who entered an alliance with the Hamas war criminals. IDF soldiers will continue to defend the state of Israel with determination and might, just as they defended us, and we will defend them with the same determination and the same might.

AMY GOODMAN: In Washington, D.C., a State Department spokesperson described the Palestinian move to join the ICC as, quote, "entirely counterproductive," saying it, quote, "badly damages the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace." In the West Bank city of Ramallah, PLO official Wassel Abu Youssef said Palestinians would not relinquish their claims under Israeli or U.S. pressure.

WASSEL ABU YOUSSEF: [translated] The Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people will not give up on our Palestinian core issues: the right to be free and independent, the right of return, as well as a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. The American administration is also competing with the occupying government by saying it will not send us aid money. This will not break the determination of the Palestinian leadership and people, until we obtain freedom and the independence of Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: The Palestinian move to join the International Criminal Court came just days after the U.N. Security Council rejected a resolution demanding an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories within three years. Of the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, only the United States and Australia voted against the measure. But it needed nine votes to pass and only received eight, after Nigeria decided at the last minute to abstain from voting. The Guardian reports both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, to ask him to oppose the measure. The United States was expected to veto the measure if it passed.

To talk more about the latest developments, we’re joined by two guests. In Washington, D.C., Phyllis Bennis is with us, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She’s written a number of books, including Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, as well as Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s United Nations. And joining us from Chicago via Democracy Now! video stream, Ali Abunimah is with us, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, author of the recent book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ali Abunimah, let’s start with you on the significance of these developments at the United Nations. Begin with the U.N. Security Council vote that did not—that ultimately did not support the Israeli withdrawal from the Palestine territories.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Good morning, Amy. Like many people, I was very relieved that the resolution failed. That might surprise some of your viewers, but the devil is in the detail. This was a very bad resolution, written by the Palestinian Authority without any support from any other Palestinian factions. It’s been condemned by Palestinian political figures and legal experts, because in an attempt to avoid the American veto, it undercut and undermined and watered down very fundamental Palestinian rights. And if this resolution had passed, it would have superseded existing resolutions which are far stronger.

I’ll give you just one example. In your headlines, you said this resolution calls for an end to the Israeli occupation. That’s the headline. But in the small print, it does no such thing. It calls for a withdrawal of Israeli security forces, their replacement with a third-party presence, understood to mean American troops or NATO troops, and it allows for the Israeli settlements to remain behind. So it doesn’t even call for settlements to be dismantled and withdrawn. That’s why this resolution should not have passed and didn’t.

On the other hand, of course, the reason the U.S. opposed it was not out of any concern for Palestinian rights, but out of the Obama administration’s commitment, unfailing commitment, to do everything possible to thwart the Palestinians, no matter how they pursue their struggle, whether through the U.N. or whether through exercising their legitimate right to self-defense and resistance. This is an American administration that exceeds all of its predecessors in its tenacity and zeal in opposing the Palestinians and helping Israel to occupy, dispossess and kill them.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power explained why the U.S. objected to the U.N. resolution on Palestine.

SAMANTHA POWER: Today’s staged confrontation in the U.N. Security Council will not bring the parties closer to achieving a two-state solution. We voted against this resolution not because we are indifferent to the daily hardships or the security threats endured by Palestinians and Israelis, but because we know that those hardships will not cease and those threats will not subside until the parties reach a comprehensive settlement achieved through negotiations.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, your response to what has taken place and its significance at the United Nations Security Council?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Thanks, Amy. I think that Ali Abunimah is absolutely right, that this resolution would not have ended the occupation. It was also never going to pass. Whether it was officially with a U.S. veto, if there had been nine votes, or a U.S. no vote as a result of U.S. pressure to make sure there were not nine votes, the U.S. was not going to let this pass.

I think what’s far more significant is the decision of the Palestinians, finally, after a great deal of pressure on the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to sign the documents to join the International Criminal Court. That ultimately has far more consequence than does these kinds of resolutions in the Security Council. The possibility of the International Criminal Court, which is a weak agency right now—it’s a thoroughly politicized agency, but it’s moving forward in the world, and I think over time we will see the court playing a greater role in international diplomacy, as well as in international jurisdiction over war crimes. The possibility that Israeli officials—and it isn’t only military officials, as Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated; it could also be and would certainly also be political officials as well as military, because things like settlements are war crimes, as well as the direct war crimes committed in Gaza. People like the prime minister, the defense minister, are in the chain of command, so they would also be liable for being brought up on charges. Now, they may say, "Well, that will never happen." Fine. Let Israel join the International Criminal Court. Israel is, of course, one of the outliers, along with the United States and a few others, very few other countries, that have refused to sign and ratify the court, to join the court, to place its own officials under the court’s jurisdiction. If Israel is so convinced that they wouldn’t have anything to fear, let them join and find out.

But the fact that the Palestinians are joining an international institution is important both for the substance and because this U.N. initiative, overall—including, frankly, the Security Council resolution, as far as it went—are major attacks on the legitimacy of the so-called diplomacy, under U.S. control, that has failed for the last 24 years. That’s, I think, very important. It’s put a number of European countries in the position of saying, "We’re no longer going to accept the idea that Washington gets to call the shots in the United Nations on the question of Palestine, that we are no longer going to be able to play an international role, that only the U.S. can determine what is a legitimate or illegitimate move by the Palestinians to obtain freedom and independence and an end to occupation and apartheid." In that context, I think the importance is far more on the level of the willingness of some European countries—France comes to mind—to stand up to U.S. pressure, to say, "You know what? The kind of diplomacy that the U.S. has controlled for so many years has failed. We need a different kind of diplomacy that starts with international law."

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion and also talk about the role of Nigeria on the U.N. Security Council. Phyllis Bennis, fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, and Ali Abunimah of The Electronic Intifada. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to turn right now to the Fatah response to the vote at the U.N. Security Council. Last week, Palestinian officials criticized the rejection by the U.N. Security Council of a Palestinian resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is Fatah spokesman Ahmad Assaf.

AHMAD ASSAF: [translated] Unfortunately, the Security Council failed in approving the draft resolution calling for the end of the Israeli occupation under a time frame. It happened because the Security Council failed in protecting its goals, on which it was founded, and its principles, which it usually propagates. It happened because there is a great power in this world set to protect and support the Israeli occupation, which represents the highest level of terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Fatah spokesperson Ahmad Assaf. Our guests are Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies and Ali Abunimah of The Electronic Intifada. Phyllis, what about Nigeria and how this went down, Jordan’s role, as well as Africa?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, what we saw, Amy, on the Security Council was that Jordan—as usual, there was only one Arab country on the Council—Jordan played the role of bringing to the Council the Palestinian draft resolution to try and get a vote. There were a lot of questions, frankly, about why the vote was pushed last week rather than now, because with the new year there are two new members on the Council, Malaysia and Venezuela, who are replacing South Korea and Argentina, making the Security Council significantly more willing to move in a direction pushed by the Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: And didn’t Jordan want—

PHYLLIS BENNIS: But the notion that the U.S.—

AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t Jordan want to wait, but the Palestinian Authority wanted to push it forward?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: There are reports of that. I don’t have the inside story on it. I think it’s important not to focus too much on the inside horse-trading issues that go on at all times. What was consistent here was the idea that the U.S. is in a position to pressure other countries, particularly relatively weak and impoverished countries that depend on the U.S. Nigeria is not necessarily impoverished, because of its oil, but its people are certainly impoverished because of legacies of colonialism and war over oil in that country. And one of the things that happened here was we saw the tradition of U.S. pressure on, in this case, another African country—it was Nigeria. The president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, was called not only by the Israeli leader from whom Nigeria is buying a significant amount of arms, and presumably that arms deal was very much on the agenda of the call from Netanyahu to Goodluck Jonathan, he also was called, though, by Secretary of State Kerry, and there are reports that President Obama himself called Goodluck Jonathan the night before the vote.

Now, that would be consistent with a long-standing U.S. habit, shall we say, of pressuring other countries at the U.N. There’s a long-standing precedent known as the Yemen precedent that stems back to the first Gulf War in 1990, when Yemen was one of only two countries, the other being Cuba, who voted against endorsing the U.S. attack and invasion of Iraq in what turned out to be 1991. And at that time, as soon as the Yemeni ambassador put down his hand after the vote, the U.S. ambassador was at his side saying, "That will be the most expensive no vote you ever cast." And three days later, the U.S. cut its entire aid budget to Yemen. That remark was picked up on a U.N. microphone and broadcast around the world. Since that time, it’s been known as the Yemen precedent, and the U.S. has used it over and over again to pressure, threaten and, in many cases, bribe other countries to do what the U.S. wants. And that’s happened more on the question of Palestine and Israel than any other question at the United Nations.

AMY GOODMAN: And to be clear, they didn’t vote against it, like the U.S. and Australia, but they abstained, which meant—

PHYLLIS BENNIS: They abstained, which—that was the loss from the nine votes required to eight votes, which meant that the U.S. no vote didn’t officially count as a veto, although the difference between a no vote and a veto vote, when the U.S. is still responsible for the failure of the resolution, doesn’t really mean very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, the response in the Occupied Territories, what this means, both the U.N. Security Council vote and the ICC, and the attempt to join the ICC?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, I can give you my response. I can’t speak for other people. But as I mentioned, there was a broad consensus in Palestinian opinion against the content of the U.N. resolution, which Abbas submitted without Palestinian consensus behind him and which undermined fundamental Palestinian rights.

As for the ICC, justice for the victims of the Israeli-American massacre in Gaza, the Israeli-American settlements in the occupied West Bank and in Jerusalem, and all the aspects of the Israeli-American colonial project in Palestine, Palestinians deserve justice for that. They deserve to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice, but the membership of the ICC must not be used as a political bargaining chip the way the illegitimate, unelected Palestinian Authority has used it—one day we’re going to sign, the next day we’re not going to sign. Of course, I don’t trust this Palestinian Authority leadership. And if they get some insignificant promise from the United States, they may well freeze their membership or withdraw their signature or carry out some other maneuver.

The other thing, I would like to respond to something Phyllis said earlier regarding the role of France versus the United States. I think it’s mistake to cast France as the role of hero in this story against the villainous United States at the U.N. Remember, the content of this resolution, which was backed by France, is about guaranteeing Israel’s long-term future as a racist Jewish state in Palestine. The difference between the United States and Israel is not that France supports Palestinian rights and the U.S. opposes them. They only differ on how to secure Israel’s long-term future as an apartheid state. The Obama administration, in practice, supports Netanyahu’s vision of a Greater Israel, where Israel annexes the Occupied Territories, because that’s what Obama supports in practice. He’s doing nothing to prevent that. France believes that Israel should continue to be a racist apartheid state, but only within the 1948 borders, and Palestinians should get a miniature bantusan, shorn of sovereignty, shorn of real independence, in order to allow Israel to continue to claim that it’s a Jewish-majority democracy. That’s the difference between France and the United States. France is not a friend of the Palestinians. It did not support this resolution out of a concern for Palestinian rights.

I think what people should take away from this soap opera at the United Nations is that Palestinians are not going to get justice from Obama, they’re not going to get justice from Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren or whoever next might be coming down the line, they’re not going to get it from the U.N., and they’re not going to get it from the European Union, which continues to arm Israel to commit massacres against Palestinians. They’re going to get it from resistance, legitimate resistance, which includes a global solidarity movement, a critical global solidarity movement, whose major and most effective expression at this moment in history is boycott, divestment and sanctions. One thing people should take away from this is that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has never been more necessary, never been more legitimate, and never been more urgent to put an end to this regime of apartheid and terror, which the United States and its allies continue to support in Palestine against millions of Palestinian people.

AMY GOODMAN: On Friday, the United States criticized Palestinian leaders for seeking to join the International Criminal Court. In a statement, State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke said, quote, "Today’s action is entirely counterproductive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state. It badly damages the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace." Phyllis Bennis, your response to that, as well as to what Ali has just laid out?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: You know, I think Ali is absolutely right that the critical factor right now is the BDS movement globally. I think that the fact of the strength, the rising strength, of the BDS movement, particularly in Europe, is very much the reason for the French decision here. It’s absolutely true that France is not a great friend of the Palestinian people, and they are certainty no heroes—I never said or thought that. But I think that what is true is that the divide, the growing divide, between governments, long-standing allies of the U.S., and their willingness to break with the U.S. on these critical questions is very much a reflection of the rising strength of BDS movements in countries around the world, whether it be South Africa, whether it be throughout Europe or elsewhere. So I think that that—those two things are very much linked.

I think the question of the International Criminal Court is fundamental because of the question of international justice. The idea that somehow peace or justice, in any form, is going to come as a result of pretending that the Palestinians and Israelis come to the table as equals, as if this was Peru and Ecuador, for instance, sitting at a table to resolve a border dispute, that’s not what is going on here. What we have is, on the one hand, the 23rd wealthiest country in the world, the only nuclear-armed country in the Middle East, the fourth most powerful military, by far the strongest military in the region, backed by the world’s sole superpower, on one hand, and on the other side of the table, a stateless population that is militarily occupied by another government, without a state, without a military, without an economy to call its own, without control of its own airspace, its own waters, its own borders, etc. You can’t call those two equal partners for peace because you sit them at the same table. That kind of negotiation is never going to work.

And I think the significance of this new move is to say to the world, that’s over. This kind of forced negotiation on a false premise is over, because it has failed for 24 years, and that what we’re now looking to is an international movement, centered by the social movements of people, like the BDS movement at its core, and that governments will, over time, change in response to the pressure from their own populations. Eventually, when enough governments change, the United Nations will change. We saw that for a brief moment of eight months in the run-up to the war in Iraq, where the U.N. and some governments, for their own opportunist reasons, stood on the side of preventing war, as the charter commands them to do. We may see that over time on the question of Palestine.

Right now, the critical factor is what former U.N. special rapporteur on Palestine, Richard Falk, has called the struggle for legitimacy. Israel is losing the struggle for legitimacy. It’s losing that battle in a global—in the global arena. It’s losing it, critically, here in the United States. And it’s in the context of Israel’s dwindling legitimacy that these moves in the United Nations, whether the Security Council or the International Criminal Court, take place. It’s the loss of legitimacy that is now fundamental to Israel’s position.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, the U.S. media’s coverage of this, do you think it reflects the differences within Palestine, the differences of opinion?

ALI ABUNIMAH: No, of course it doesn’t. You know, the routine mistake that’s made is to equate the unelected, Israeli-backed, U.S.-financed Palestinian Authority with the Palestinians. And that’s a big mistake, because the Palestinian Authority acts despite the Palestinians. This is a Palestinian Authority engaged in a massive political crackdown against its opponents at home. This is a Palestinian Authority that is directly complicit in the ongoing siege of Gaza. We haven’t seen Mahmoud Abbas and his cohort put a fraction of the effort into ending the siege of Gaza that continues to kill people there, children dying in house fires because there’s only electricity three hours a day now in Gaza, in many parts of Gaza. Instead, they put all their effort into this mirage of a U.N. resolution that only showed their weakness domestically and internationally. And what Palestinians are saying is that, you know, after all these years of struggle and suffering, they’re not prepared to give up their most basic rights for nothing more than a bantustan, which isn’t even on offer.

And, Amy, if I may, I want to respond to the clip of the U.S. official—I didn’t catch his name—that you played, about—

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Rathke, State Department.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes, Jeff Rathke of the State Department, about how joining the ICC doesn’t help the atmosphere. I’ll tell you what didn’t help the atmosphere, was when, during the summer massacre in Gaza, when dozens of people were being killed every day by Israeli bombs, when entire neighborhoods were being destroyed and carpet-bombed by Israeli shelling, when, during that time, the Obama administration, President Obama, decided to resupply the Israeli military with bombs so it could continue to murder people in Gaza. To put it mildly, that didn’t help the atmosphere. Palestinians do not want to hear lectures from the American administration that helped and continues to help to murder them and steal their land. The U.S. administration of Barack Obama has nothing to say that Palestinians need to listen to.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, I want to thank you for being with us, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, author of the recent book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, speaking to us from Chicago. And Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, among her books, Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s United Nations, she’s speaking to us from Washington, D.C.

When we come back, we’ll be joined by attorney Scott Horton, his book, Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Foreign Policy. Stay with us.


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