Overcoming the status quo - will there be accountability for Israeli leaders?

Overcoming the status quo – will there be accountability for Israeli leaders?

Choosing not to surrender to the ever-deepening impasse created by Israeli proposals, the PLO has decided to put into effect the State of Palestine’s status as a subject of International Law by acceding to the Rome Statute. Given the apparent lack of will of Israel to address the conflict’s transformation, the search for an end to impunity and, possibly, of occupation should be welcomed, while the doors for dialogue must remain open.

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By Moara Crivelente 

“Justice” has often been a vague concept, away from analyses of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. While we have remained dedicated to formulating and reformulating “solutions” according to the turn of events – especially the advancement of the Israeli occupation’s apparatus on the Palestinian territories –, the popular claim for an end of impunity has grown not only within the territory, but also around the world. There are many critical inputs on the dead-end brought about by a perpetual “peace process” and the monopolization of negotiations by the United States; which are, for many Palestinians and their supporters, clearly allied to Israel.

Theories regarding the process of “confidence building”, the parties’ commitment to the conflict’s resolution – or transformation – and the approach to the asymmetry inherent to cases such as Israel-Palestine are abundant. If, on the one hand, we have local attempts to unite Palestinian and Israeli individuals in a vast offer of programs, projects and practices aimed at fostering relations of confidence for the sake of coexistence and, possibly, transformation, on the other, we have seen the strengthening of popular resistance alternatives that are determined to denounce and end occupation. It is not only about the world-renowned Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement affecting Israel at an accelerated pace – Israeli former Minister of Defense Ehud Barak himself, among many others, has recently admitted this reality. It is also about the popular committees in villages such as Nabih Saleh, Bil’in and others, in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, respectively, that have been successfully breaking barracks through alternative media and social networks to expose the conditions under which the Palestinians live in the occupied territories. During Israeli Operation Protective Edge, for instance, this was how I received much information and had contact with Palestinians who could tell their own stories.

Since the beginning of 2013, when another innocuous period of negotiations was pushed – though it stagnated since its very onset – the escalation of rhetoric and such practices has contributed to the Palestinians attracting ever more solidarity from around the world. During the nine months agreed by Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and Israeli Minister of Justice, Tzipi Livni, for a new round of talks, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has counted, for instance, the announcement or building of new housing units within major Israeli settlements in the West Bank for 55,000 new settlers. This and other violations – since building and transferring population from the Occupying Power’s territory to the occupied territory is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention – were perpetrated during the very months in which commitment to dialogue was supposed to be demonstrated. Apparently the Israeli Government, filled with leaders of the settler movement, such as the Economy Minister, Naftali Bennett, (in the Jewish Home Party), could not rescind this electoral platform.

Much could also be said about the Israeli insistence on delegitimizing a primary actor such as the Hamas movement and political party, and the negative impact this insistence has on any chance of real dialogue. Hamas’ popularity may vary over time and according to the trend experienced by the Palestinians – such as the absence or presence of direct violence, such as the Israeli military operations against the Gaza Strip and the West Bank –, but it still enjoys popular support and it represents the claims of an expressive parcel of the population. Therefore, insisting on excluding the party from the negotiating table is unsustainable, and it can be assumed that Israeli leaders know that. Still, this de-legitimizing strategy also serves to mobilize support for military actions such as Operation Protective Edge (2014), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012) and Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009); apart from the ordinary incursions or strikes that do not reach the status of major operations and, therefore, are not mediatized. The propaganda and the de-humanization effort behind these enterprises were already evaluated in a previous article for TransConflict.

This is why the April reconciliation agreement between the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Hamas is an opportunity for Palestinians and Israelis – since the inclusion of such an important primary actor could turn things around – or a turn of events for those not interested in pushing negotiations further on the central and internationally-recognized Palestinian claims. For those we mean precisely the likes of Minister Bennett, who said, one year ago: “the goal is to torpedo any agreement and prevent deterioration to pre-1967 lines.” The Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied since 1967 is not in any agenda presented by the Israeli leaders, based on the allegation that the Israeli territories would not be “defendable”. This is why one of the most resonating proposals endorsed by the US at the time was to guarantee, as a “security concern”, the presence of Israeli troops in Palestinian territory as a condition for any agreement; even though the Palestinians could have agreed to have there an international force led by the UN. However, choosing not to surrender to the ever-deepening impasse created by the Israeli proposals and objection to every Palestinian historical claim, the PLO has decided to put into effect the State of Palestine’s status as a subject of International Law.

The alternative was met with harsh criticism and reactions by the Israeli authorities. Sanctions – such as freezing the transference of the Palestinians’ tax revenues collected by Israel, according to the 1994 agreement – and other threats showed how the strategy could actually work. In a recent interview over the phone, former Palestinian Foreign Minister, Nabil Shaath, said that the Palestinians would exhaust International Law as a mean to uphold their rights, since negotiations monopolized by the US have not given results in over two decades. Shaath was chief negotiator during the Oslo peace process, which brought great expectations for Palestinians and Israelis, but led to a broader and official presence of the Occupying Power in the Palestinian territories, precisely due to a lack of commitment to the evolution of conditions agreed to. After applying to a number of international covenants, treaties and organizations – UNESCO was an example of the US’ and Israel’s sanctions for accepting the State of Palestine as a member –, the latest fuzz was created after Palestine acceded to the Rome Statute, constitutive of the International Criminal Court. The sight of the Criminal Court on the horizon scares Israeli authorities who already know that the Palestinians’ case has solid grounds. They know that also because they are advised and represented, among others, by a military Advocate-General – a legal branch connected to the Army, which applies International Humanitarian Law to supposedly steer the military operations or respond to criticism and accusations. This goes hand-in-hand with the outraged figure mounted on and for the media, in the international fora – such as the UN General Assembly last year – or in their allies’ corridors.

A number of documents by the International Court of Justice – such as the 2004 Advisory Opinion regarding the consequences of the Israeli wall built in the West Bank – and the UN already recognize as serious violations a number of Israeli practices in the Palestinian occupied territories. Therefore, even the fallacious contest created by Israeli discourse over the Palestinian territories – which would not be “occupied”, but “disputed” – is evident as another desperate attempt to evade accountability, a term that the Israeli leaders could have never imagined to one day be part of their concerns. In December 2014, the failure of a much rehearsed and even negotiated draft by one vote less than necessary and the predictable US veto showed again that the end of occupation, one of its claims, is still a taboo. US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power has only said that the Palestinian initiative was “counterproductive”, and that it did not care for Israel’s “security concerns”, which could only be explained with the speculation: did she actually read the draft (here) or was her statement only part of the usual show? Not to recur to the apparently naïve ponderation: what about the Palestinians’ security concerns, neglected for over six decades? Even France has supported a negotiated draft resolution.

Around the same day, the declaration derived from the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention condemned again Israeli practices as an Occupying Power in violation of the Convention. Furthermore, civil organizations such as Amnesty International and the Israeli B’Tselem, for instance, already have reports and evidence, which the Israeli authorities refute, showing that war crimes were indeed perpetrated in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge, when approximately 2,200 Palestinians – almost 600 children – were killed. The UN Human Rights Council is supposed to deliver results from its fact-finding mission in the coming months, while its final report could have less chances of meeting the drawer this time than another did in 2009. That year, the 500-page Goldstone Report on the Operation Cast Lead reached near-oblivion, after accusations of war crimes and “possible crimes against humanity” were met with an angry Israeli spectacle against the document, the UN and the Jewish South-African Judgem Richard Goldstone. A curiosity: in July 2014, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said that the Human Rights Council, having decided for a new investigation, had turned into a “terrorists’ rights Council”. These are the displays of the Israeli leaders’ lack of will to address the conflict’s transformation, which leads us to welcome the search for an end to impunity and, possibly, of occupation, while the doors for dialogue must remain open. The search for justice and for an end to occupation does not eliminate the disposition for diplomacy, which remains the only way to transform the situation and to make it possible for the status quo to be finally overcome. Accountability, as naïve as it may sound, could in fact serve to turn Israel’s growing isolation into a demonstration that it has indeed something to lose while it does not commit to actually transform the situation and really talk to Palestinians. In such an asymmetric condition and power-relation, this exercise could serve not only the search for justice, but especially for getting serious about the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

Moara Crivelente is a political scientist and journalist specialized in International Relations and the Communication of Conflicts. ​Her main research interests are critical peace studies, peace communication, community-based conflict transformation and local resistances.

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