Month: January 2015

Israel faces ICC charges after UK abstains on Security Council vote

It may come to be seen as one of the greatest ironies in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, when it is finally written, that what put the Israelis in the dock at the International Criminal Court was the non-vote of the UK delegation in the United Nations.
President Abbas has said many times that he would hold off applying to join the International Criminal Court – in spite of massive pressure from Palestinians – if only the Security Council would agree to a resolution setting a three-year timescale for the end of the occupation.
A timescale is surely not unreasonable. Negotiations with the Israelis are unlikely ever to reach a conclusion when there is no deadline. The Israelis use negotiations to build more and more settlements – ‘facts on the ground’ – on stolen Palestinian land.
The Foreign Secretary said in the House of Commons in October that Israeli announcements of new settlements not only undermined but were “intended to undermine” the peace process.
The implication of the word “intended” is that negotiations cannot succeed if it is left to the Israelis. There has to be international action. There have to be consequences to illegal actions and delay.
Why, then, did the UK not support Palestine’s most moderate politician, President Abbas, putting forward a moderate resolution to the United Nations setting a deadline of 2017?
Why did the UK allow France and Luxembourg, the two other West European countries on the Security Council, to provide the leadership on the Israel-Palestine issue while the UK sits on its hands?
Does the Foreign Secretary not realise that the UK’s non-vote plays into the hands of those Palestinians who argue that diplomacy and politics will not work and only violence yields results?
Does he not realise that the UK’s abstention also plays into the hands of Likud and other extreme parties in Israel by appearing to show that Israel does not need to change its behaviour and can always get away with breaking international law?
The consequence of the UK’s non-vote was that  the resolution won only 8 votes out of 15, one short of the nine votes required for a resolution to be carried.
The next day President Abbas did what he said he was going to do – he signed the Rome Statute that should make Palestine a member of the ICC from April 1.
He also applied to join Interpol – which will make it easier to secure the extradition of Israeli leaders or generals to face war crime charges at The Hague.
Israel refuses to ratify the ICC convention so that Israelis cannot be tried for war crimes committed in Israel but, now that the UN recognises Palestine as a state, Israelis can be tried for crimes committed in Gaza or the West Bank.
The UN found prima facie evidence of war crimes committed by Israel in the 2009 Gaza war and the same will be true of the 2014 war.
On top of that Isael is permanently in breach of international law over the building of settlements, the siege of Gaza, the annexation of East Jerusalem and the route of the separation wall.
The Israelis have tried to confuse the issue by saying that Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza have more to fear from the Hague court than they have.
This is bluster. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have signed a declaration supporting the application to the ICC on the basis that they are prepared to run the risk of prosecution in order to ensure that the Israelis are held to account.
It’s true that prosecutions are not automatic. They depend on the judgment of prosecutors at The Hague, but it seems unlikely they will see Hamas as their main priority when Israeli fire killed 1,473 civlians in the recent Gaza war while Hamas rockets killed four.
So ironically the UK – in a move intended to help the Israelis – have ensured that Israel ends up in the International Criminal Court.
Of course, had the Palestinian resolution received the required nine votes, the US could still have used its veto.  But at least then it would be clear that it is the US that is giving the Israelis immunity.
And in any case it is the EU, not the US, that is Israel’s major trading partner, so it is Europe, not the States, that have the power (and the responsibility) to bring peace to the Middle East.
RESOLUTION: The Jordanian resolution, tabled on behalf of the Palestinians, called for what is already promised in past UN resolutions – a state of Palestine based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital – but with a timescale of 12 months for a peace settlement and three years for the withdrawal of Israeli troops.
VOTING RULES: The Security Council has 15 members, five permanent and ten rotating. A decision requires not just a majority but 9 votes in favour and any of the permanent members (US, UK, France, Russia and China) can veto a decision.
VOTING FOR: France, China, Russia, Argentina, Chad, Chile, Jordan, Luxembourg (8)
VOTING AGAINST: Australia, United States (2)
ABSTAINING: UK, Nigeria, Lithuania, South Korea, Rwanda (5)
OUTCOME: The Jordanian motion fell one vote short with 8 out of 15.  If the UK had supported it, it would have been carried. The US would then have had to decide whether to exercise its veto.
WHAT HAPPENED:  Until 30 minutes before the vote the Palestinians were confident that the motion would be carried with nine votes, but at the last moment Nigeria decided to abstain – after a phone call from US Secretary Kerry to President Goodluck Jonathan.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT:  President Abbas made it clear that he would apply for membership of the International Criminal Court at The Hague if the Security Council did not approve the resolution. The day after the vote Abbas signed the papers that will give Palestine membership of 20 UN bodies, including the ICC.
WHAT WILL THAT MEAN? For the first time Israeli politicians and generals can face prosecution for war crimes committed on Palestinian soil and Palestinians can face prosecution as well.  This will include war crimes committed in the West Bank or Gaza last year.
WHEN WILL THAT HAPPEN? That will depend on prosecutors at the ICC in The Hague.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: The French and Jordanians are discussing the possibility of submitting the resolution again – when five new countries join the Security Council in January, possibly tipping the balance back towards the Palestinians.
WHY DID UK ABSTAIN? UK ambassador Mark Grant admitted that “the UK supports much of the content of the draft resolution. It is therefore with deep regret that we abstained from it.”
Before the vote he had told reporters that the UK was “not happy with the phrasing of the resolution. There’s some difficulties with the text, particularly language on time scales, new language on refugees.”
The only reason he gave after the vote was that: “We are disappointed that the normal and necessary negotiation did not take place on this occasion.”