Palestine and the International Criminal Court

Palestinians, occupied and oppressed by Israel for decades, are not blessed with competent leaders.  In part, of course, this is because Israel has systematically sought to kill off (at times literally) any emergent leadership.  But in part it is because of ambiguity on the part of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) leadership about the best way forwards (there is even ambiguity over the PLO/PA role in negotiating with Israel and the wider international community).  This ambiguity is exemplified by Palestinian incompetence over this week’s UN Security Council decision on Palestine, as Marwan Bishara, senior political analyst for Al Jazeera, showed in a blog posting earlier today.

At times like this, I am reminded of Edward Said, a sorely missed advocate of Palestinian rights, who understood the need for a clarity of vision on the conflict that is often lacking today:

Ambiguity about our purposes is a useful tactic in the short run, but it cannot be a productive long-term strategy. Unless we produce a political discourse today that specifies as well as embodies what our struggle for self-determination is about, and unless we do so in a way that does not betray the values that have fueled struggle, we risk entering the final stage leading to self-determination unprepared for its outcome, a Palestinian state. If such a state is simply a mirror image of other states in the region, it would be a monster. — Edward Said, The Nation. Dec. 5, 1981 (posted today on Facebook by a friend; I haven’t verified the quotation)

Apartheid Wall, Palestinian side, Bethlehem, 2010

Apartheid Wall, Palestinian side, Bethlehem, 2010

Over 25 years of engagement with the conflict, researching and writing about it professionally, living in the region and having contact with folk of all persuasions and backgrounds in Israel and in Palestine, continually reinforces my understanding that the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a relatively straightforward one of injustice and theft of land by Zionists.  Zionism is an irredentist and nationalist movement based on 19th century settler-colonial ideology.  I don’t think it is possible for such a movement not to resort to morally problematic actions, for example, legitimating murder and dispossession (the classical imperial strategy of ‘they made us kill them’ is evident again and again, as Rania Khalek described in a report earlier today).  However, the ‘world community’ has sought to learn from such mistakes, and although haltingly and imperfectly, has created some legal mechanisms to deal with such matters.

It is therefore to be welcomed that the PA has today finally signed up to some of the key treaties that will help in this regard, of which the most immediately significant is perhaps the International Criminal Court:

This is not an anti-Israel move, even though Israel will probably claim that. Rather, it is a way to encourage justice, which will benefit both Palestinians and Israelis – of course the occupation and ongoing oppression of Palestinians is terrible for them, but being an occupier and oppressor is not doing Israel any good either!

Sheikh Jarrah demonstration, occupied East Jerusalem, 2010

Sheikh Jarrah demonstration, occupied East Jerusalem, 2010

Although I don’t expect anything immediate to change, returning to a legal framework for transforming the conflict is the only viable way to move forwards, since negotiations in their current form have clearly failed: for over 20 years Israel has used the so-called ‘peace process’ to steal ever more land whilst pretending to negotiate, and nobody has tried to restrain it in any way.  The possibility, at least, of legal sanctions, means that there might be some hope for change in the future (and let’s be clear, it is no more than a possibility at the moment).  At the end of a calamitous year for Palestinians, this is one tiny glimmer of light that might make 2015 a marginally better one, though it will need more coherent action from the Palestinian leadership, and global support for any attempt at legal redress.  If you want to engage more with these questions in 2015, I would suggest the following as deserving of your support:

There are many more, but these are well worth becoming involved in to begin with.  If you’re not in Scotland or the rest of the UK, there will be similar movements in your country.

Happy New Year – and may 2015 be a better year for Palestinians and Israelis than 2014.

Update, 2.1.15
This short blog by Juan Cole shows why the ICC might become a real concern for Israeli leaders. The risk of prosecution grows over time, and it becomes a matter of when, not if, one of them is finally charged.