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Palestinian Leaders Are Taking Their Quest for Statehood Global — Consequences Be Damned

The Palestinian Authority has sought recognition on the international stage despite expected repercussions from both Israel and the United States.
Photo by Christian Lutz/AP

Some have dubbed it Palestine's 'Plan-B' — after yet another failed round of bilateral negotiations with Israel, leaders are taking the issue of Palestinian statehood to the global stage.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has branded the move an effort at "internationalizing" the conflict by building up recognition one international body at a time.

Most recently, Palestine signed on to the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court. The ICC immediately launched a preliminary probe into war crimes in Palestine.


International Criminal Court opens preliminary probe into war crimes in Palestine. Read more here.

"Gaining status at the ICC will serve as a preventive measure, for Israel to understand that it can't continue without accountability and that it will have to take into consideration consequences of its actions," Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi told VICE News ahead of the announcement. "Because for the first time, [Israel] is going to be held accountable."

Israel and the US have slammed both the PA and the ICC for the move.

"The Palestinian Authority is not a country and therefore it is not the court's place, also according to its own rules, to carry out an examination like this,"Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke issued a statement Friday saying the US "strongly disagreed" with the ICC's action.

"As we have said repeatedly, we do not believe that Palestine is a state and therefore we do not believe that it is eligible to join the ICC," Rathke said. "It is a tragic irony that Israel, which has withstood thousands of terrorist rockets fired at its civilians and its neighborhoods, is now being scrutinized by the ICC."

But the US and Israel are increasingly isolated in their positions; 135 countries have recognized Palestine as a state, and more are debating such a move.

Palestine's bid to join International Criminal Court sparks ire from Israel. Read more here.


Still, international recognition has come at a cost: Israel, which collects taxes on behalf of the Palestinians, froze $127 million in revenue — something it has done in the past — and US legislators introduced a bill to defund the Palestinian Authority until its leaders withdraw from the ICC.

Neither response was unexpected, Palestinian officials told VICE News.

"People feel that we should press ahead," Ashrawi said. "We knew that there were going to be consequences. We knew that Israel would respond to our attempt to create accountability with even more crimes, like withholding our own money."

The repercussions will have consequences for a "state" that is both deeply dependent on foreign aid and effectively at the mercy of its occupier to carry out its day-to-day operations. But some say Palestine is being punished for seeking a nonviolent, diplomatic route to end the conflict — a strategic move designed to call out what is perceived as hypocrisy by Israel and its supporters.

'We knew that there were going to be consequences. We knew that Israel would respond to our attempt to create accountability with even more crimes, like withholding our own money.'

"If we use violence we're punished, if we use international law we're punished, if we try to hold Israel accountable we're punished," Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American businessman based in Ramallah, told VICE News. "I'm not exactly sure what Israel expects the Palestinians to do under occupation. But we would hope that the international community at least holds Israel accountable not to punish the Palestinians for doing diplomatic work — not only for the Palestinians' sake but also for the sake of the integrity of the international system of governance."


Bahour said some Palestinians are hopeful, while others see the move for statehood as a lost cause.

"There's a part of our community that has already given up on the international system of governance, given that the US dominates it," he said. "But I think the bulk of our community is still for what we call internationalizing the conflict, and trying to get out of the bear hug of the US, which is not allowing it to move forward… But I think they'll be surprised that that same bear hug applies to the international venues that we are trying to use to replace that."

To some critics, the ICC move — while still welcome — is too little too late. And others have pointed out that international institutions have been involved in the conflict for decades and achieved little change for Palestinians.

"We knocked on the doors of the international community and prowled the streets of world capitals in search of support," Hamas deputy foreign minister Ghazi Hamad wrote recently. "Many applauded us at international forums and we received 'theoretical' recognition as a country. But where is the practical result on the ground?

"Instead of getting a state as is our historical right, we have begun to expect it through a UN resolution that cannot be implemented," Hamad added. "Palestine cannot be freed or built by this lacking, arbitrary path that is far from any deep planning, strong preparation, and joint, continued and accumulated national action. It is transforming into merely wishes and no more."


Maneuvering at the UN could lead to war crimes against Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Read more here.

Turning once again to the international community could work, others said, if international recognition comes with more practical support — including the political and economic isolation of Israel through boycotts and sanctions.

"This issue has always been internationalized," Diana Buttu, a Palestinian political analyst and former negotiator and legal advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), told VICE News. "The problem is that the PA hasn't really created an alternative to the negotiations process, so that instead of pushing for sanctions on Israel, rather than pushing for Israel's isolation, rather than supporting the boycott and divestment movement, the PA has been solely focused on negotiation."

'The younger generation of Palestinians could give up on statehood and convert this from a national liberation struggle to a civil rights struggle.'

While some have seen the PA's efforts at internationalization as a plan B, others have called it more of a desperate "last resort."

"People who are being denied their rights attempt many different forms of resistance," Bahour said. "Our struggle started with armed struggle, then we then went into 20 years of work at the UN, and that didn't work. We had an uprising — an intifada — which didn't work, and then we went into 20 plus years of bilateral negotiations — and that was catastrophic to the reality on the ground."


It's possible that, in order to maintain security, Israel will eventually ease up on their retaliations to internationalization. Both the US and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin have criticized the freezing of Palestinian assets as counterproductive. Ashrawi called it "a very dangerous policy."

UN Security Council rejects Palestinian resolution to end Israel's occupation. Read more here.

"If you want to destroy the PA, or bring about a break down, you know that there will be a breakout of violence and instability, and that's something that cannot be contained," Ashrawi said. "Some say, 'Fine, let the PA collapse and let's see what Israel is going to do.'"

But nobody really wants a collapse of the PA — which in the eyes of some is effectively a reluctant administrator for the occupation, a bureaucratic middleman between Israel and the Palestinians.

Both Ashrawi and Buttu said it's unlikely the tax revenue freeze will last — as it's in Israel's strategic interest to make sure the PA remains functional enough to maintain security in the occupied territories.

"Israel has it very convenient: they do the occupying and the Europeans do the paying," Buttu said. "I don't think the Europeans would ever let it get to the stage where the PA is collapsing on itself and I don't think Israel wants to get to that point either."

But ICC membership is not a victory unto itself, unless Palestinian leaders use it, she added.


"We need something that's going to be able to maintain Palestinians in their homes and in their homeland and resist military rule," Buttu said. "That's where the PA needs to start re-envisioning itself, and direct itself towards liberation and away from just management of the status quo."

Bahour said the stakes of pursuing the international route are high for the PA.

"If it fails, Palestinians could revert back to violence, which would be devastating," he said.

But another alternative is also on the horizon: If statehood keeps getting denied, Palestinians may just stop asking for it — a possibility with enormous consequences for Israel's role and identity.

"The younger generation of Palestinians could give up on statehood and convert this from a national liberation struggle to a civil rights struggle," Bahour said. "It's very possible that the next generation will not keep beating its head on the wall of statehood; they'll say that if Israel is in control from the sea to the river, then what we want from Israel is our rights."

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter:@alicesperi