On April 17, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), delivered to Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a letter listing the PA’s demands in anticipation of peace negotiations, demands with which Israel must comply or Abbas will eschew further negotiations and instead “seek the full and complete implementation of international law as it pertains to the powers and responsibilities of Israel as occupying power in all of the occupied Palestinian territory.” In other words, Abbas will go back to the UN and the International Criminal Court to seek redress against Israel’s putative criminal activities. Much like an obstreperous child on the playground, Abbas tells Netanyahu that either he play the game according to Abbas’ rules or Abbas will tell the teacher what a bad boy Israel has been. It would be a comical farce were not so many lives at stake.
Abbas goes on to threaten, albeit obliquely, that because Israel has not played the game according to Abbas’ demands, he might just go ahead and dissolve the PA, throwing back upon Israel all of the responsibilities for administration in the West Bank: “For the Palestinian Authority—now stripped of all meaningful authority—cannot continue to honor agreements while Israel refuses to even acknowledge its commitments. The P.A. is no longer as was agreed and this situation cannot continue.” So in addition to tattling to the teacher, he will also take his ball and go home.
Hopefully, Netanyahu will not be moved by such puerile posturing.
None of this is new. After being rebuffed at the UN last year, Abbas floated informal threats about dismantling the PA, and even took the idea to the Fatah Central Committee (FCC). The FCC supported the idea but no decision was taken. When questioned while in Japan about Yossi Beilin’s open letter in Foreign Policy magazine on April 4, in which Beilin urged Abbas to carry out his threat to dissolve the PA as a way to express his exasperation with Netanyahu’s “intransigence,” Abbas quickly back-tracked and told journalists that “The PA is an achievement and we must not dissolve it but strengthen it.” But if that were true, why would the FCC support the idea? Perhaps because they know that Abbas has no intention of dissolving the PA.
In order to understand what is going on here, we must recognize the perils to Israel that are implied in both of Abbas’ threats.
Abbas knows that unlike former U.S. Presidents, Obama has already threatened to withhold a US veto in the UN if a Security Council resolution could create an existential threat to Israel. Abbas’ second try at the UN might work, especially if this timethe PA demand is pared down to recognition with the status of a non-member state (a big step above the “observer status” that the PA now has, but below full membership), and especially if Obama wins a second term and no longer needs to worry about losing some of his Jewish vote. Moreover, although the PA’s attempt to bring war-crime accusations against Israel at the International Criminal Court ended in failure with the decision that the court had no jurisdiction, as the present writer noted earlier, the chief prosecutor outlined for the PA the directions it could take if it wanted to appeal at a later date. By requesting that the UN petition the court to hear the PA case, or by convincing state members of the court to agree to bring the case to the docket, Abbas could do an end-run around the jurisdiction issue. If the PA’s attorneys have the brains that God gave a napkin, they are working on both of these issues now.
So the peril to Israel in Abbas’ first threat is that Israel may be pilloried in the ICC with a re-run of the Goldstone report, especially if Obama wins a second term.