Bullying Palestine Out of Statehood at the UN

It was reported late last week that President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas plans to head off another PLO bid to upgrade Palestine’s status at the United Nations to “a state under occupation.” The PLO’s last attempt at being recognized as a state at the UN ended with the US vetoing it at the Security Council, of course. A lesser achievement did get pushed through though when Palestine was accepted as a full member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and in response to this the US cut off funding for the group, costing it a fifth of its budget.

At the Council on Foreign Relations, former Reagan and Bush minion (and criminal) Elliot Abrams doesn’t much appreciate Palestine’s bid for statehood at the UN. And he revels in America’s bullying tactics at the UN:

Is this a smart move for the Palestinians? Perhaps not. Elevation to “state” status may allow them to join other UN organizations, but when they joined UNESCO the United States defunded that organization—costing it the 22 percent of its budget we pay. Will other UN agencies be happy to pay the same price to elevate the PLO’s status? Will the Palestinians win friends in the UN system by forcing that issue?

You damn Palestinians don’t understand that we’ll make you enemies of everyone at the UN. Our browbeating of every UN agency that accepts your statehood bid will cause them to resent you. You don’t want this, do you?

Honestly, the diplomatic conduct of people like Abrams is no more sophisticated than the fat kid throwing his weight around on the playground and intimidating the little ones to get his way.

More than that, though, I’m struck at how open Abrams is about the real reason the US and Israel will stop at nothing to prevent Palestinian statehood recognition.

Being called a “state” by the General Assembly may also permit the PLO, or Palestine, to bring cases in the International Criminal Court (ICC). Only states can do that, and the ICC has previously refused cases from the PLO. The Palestinians have a far stronger case to be considered a “state” for ICC purposes if the General Assembly gives them that status. But then what? Will they bring case after case against Israeli generals and other officials, with allegations of “war crimes” and the like? Those who say “no, they won’t, but the threat of doing so enhances their ability to deter Israeli behavior they don’t like” should think twice. Won’t they—if there is considerable public pressure to do so? How would PLO officials explain to the press and public, after some incident, why they were not bring an action in the Hague? The pressure may be irresistible.

It’s almost laughable that Abrams so matter-of-factly describes the problem: If we grant Palestine statehood, Israel could be brought to court for its war crimes!

As revealed by US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, US and Israeli officials met in February 2010 that Palestinian Authority Justice Minister Ali Kashan had requested that ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo investigate alleged Israeli war crimes in the occupied territories since 2002, up to and including Israel’s attacks on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, called Operation Cast Lead.

According to the cable, Israeli officials requested multiple times that the US “state publicly its position that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel regarding the Gaza operation,” and “warned that PA pursuit of Israel through the ICC would be viewed as war by the GOI [Government of Israel].”

Reading the cables, it becomes clear Israeli officials deflect allegations of war crimes, not by denying they took place, but by dismissing them via a legal technicality. Present at the meeting was IDF Head of the International Law Department Col. Liron Libman who “noted that the ICC was the most dangerous issue for Israel.”

These concerns are markedly different from Israel’s public objections to Palestinian statehood. But Abrams is quite open about the fact that Palestinian statehood not only would obstruct Israel’s plans to claim all of the West Bank and Gaza, but would make Israel vulnerable to legal recourse.