After the U.S. and Israel delivered a one-sided, unacceptable interim agreement to the Palestinians last week, the PLO and Mahmoud Abbas decided to pursue further accession at the United Nations, building on its attainment of non-member observer status in 2012. In a press release yesterday, Human Rights Watch condemned the United States for opposing Palestinian efforts to adopt international treaties and urged Washington to “stop blocking Palestinian rights.”
On April 1, 2014, the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, signed accession instruments for 15 treaties, including the core treaties on human rights and the laws of war. On April 2, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, testified in front of Congress, that in response to the “new Palestinian actions” that the “solemn commitment” by the US to “stand with Israel,” “extends to our firm opposition to any and all unilateral [Palestinian] actions in the international arena.”
“It is disturbing that the Obama administration, which already has a record of resisting international accountability for Israeli rights abuses, would also oppose steps to adopt treaties requiring Palestinian authorities to uphold human rights,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The US should press both the Palestinians and the Israelis to better abide by international human rights standards.”
Obviously, the U.S. opposes Palestinian efforts to ingratiate itself further into the international community because Israel opposes them. Why does Israel oppose them? Two reasons: (1) it confers greater legitimacy on Palestine as a state, which conflicts with Israel’s plan to prevent that outcome, and (2) if the PLO seeks jurisdiction at the International Criminal Court, Israel may be subject to trial for its daily crimes against Palestinians.
The US appears to oppose Palestine joining human rights treaties in part because it is afraid they will gain greater support for Palestinian statehood outside the framework of negotiations with Israel. According to Power’s testimony to a congressional subcommittee on April 2, the US has “a monthly meeting with the Israelis” to coordinate responses to possible Palestinian actions at the UN, which the US is concerned could upset peace negotiations. Power said that the US had been “fighting on every front” before peace negotiations restarted in 2013 to prevent such Palestinian actions. Discussing US legislation that bars US funding from UN agencies that accept Palestine as a member, Power noted, “The spirit behind the legislation is to deter Palestinian action [at the UN], that is what we do all the time and that is what we will continue to do.”
The US may also fear that the Palestinian moves are only a first step towards joining the International Criminal Court (ICC). But Abbas did not sign the Rome Statute of the ICC, which would allow the court to have jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed in Palestine or by Palestinians. Power, in her remarks, said that the US is “absolutely adamant” that Palestine should not join the ICC because it “really poses a profound threat to Israel” and would be “devastating to the peace process.”
It’s worth thinking about why the PLO didn’t pursue the ICC this time around. It may be because they want to keep that card for leverage in negotiations. But it’s also true that “Israel has threatened unspecified retaliation if [Palestine] seeks the court’s jurisdiction, and the U.S. has reinforced the threat,” according to Bill Van Esveld, a senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The official line from the Obama administration is that it opposes “unilateral actions” that might “upset peace negotiations.” Right, we must preserve the precious peace talks, which have gone on for decades and have served as a stalling tactic while Israel continues to occupy Palestine and steal more land. In reality, Israel opposes a Palestinian state. And the U.S. supports them in this.