Israel imposes sanctions because ‘the slave lifted its head’
This posting has these items:
1) Daoud Kuttab: The 15 international treaties signed by the Palestinians have no major effect on Israel;
2) Barak Ravid: Israel freezes transfer of tax monies to PA in response to UN move, April 13th;
3) Reuters: Palestinian UN moves designed to avoid U.S. retaliation, April 3rd;
4) Ynet: Netanyahu orders cutback in contacts with Palestinian Authority;
5) DW: Netanyahu limits cabinet contact with Palestinian officials;
Palestinian Minister of Labour Ahmad Majdalani says “90% of our daily business is dealing with the Israeli military.In fact, there are no meetings between Israeli and Palestinian ministers, apart from finance ministers.”
The real story on Palestine’s UN treaties
The 15 international treaties signed by the Palestinians have no major effect on Israel
By Daoud Kuttab, Al Monitor
April 11, 2014
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to join some 15 international treaties will not have any major, direct effect on Israel. Despite the Israeli hoopla about the April 1 accession of Palestine to various international treaties, none of the treaties has any direct impact on the status of the occupied territories.
Palestine committed itself in these treaties to various human rights conventions as well as laws of war treaties. International jurists argue that these treaties actually place more liabilities on the Palestinian government and have absolutely no effect on Israel and its status as the occupying power.
Not only were the Israelis upset with Abbas’ decision — which seemingly has little impact on them — but so was the United States, a supposed global champion for human rights.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) was so stunned by what America’s UN envoy Samantha Power told Congress that they issued a statement criticizing the US position. HRW said that the United States should “support rather than oppose” Palestinians joining human rights treaties.
“It is disturbing that the Obama administration, which already has a record of resisting international accountability for Israeli rights abuses, would also oppose steps to adopt treaties requiring Palestinian authorities to uphold human rights,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW, said.
So if signing these agreements has no real impact on Israel, why have the Israelis been so vocal about it?
The answer is political rather than legal. Despite Israeli demands that Palestine must be democratic, Palestine’s human rights record does not appear to be on the Israeli radar these days. In fact, Israel seems less concerned if Palestinian security forces violate the rights of Palestinians and acts in a tough way against opponents to the peace process.
The biggest sin of the Palestinian leadership appears to have been the decision to act independently or, in other words, act in the interest of its own people, but without the prior approval of Israel and, to a lesser extent, the Americans.
Israel’s arrogant and paternalistic attitude was reflected in a host of statements by senior Israeli Cabinet officials and a horde of Israeli columnists. Speaking at the start of the Israeli weekly Cabinet session, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened Palestinians that Israel would respond to Palestinian unilateral actions with its own unilateral action. Palestinians scoffed at the Israeli prime minister’s threats, considering that Israel has unilaterally occupied Palestinians territories, encouraged illegal settlement into occupied territories and denied the internationally sanctioned right of return for Palestinian refugees.
One Palestinian blogger aptly wrote that Israel was upset because “the slave raised his head,” listing a number of continued Israeli human rights violations and unilateral acts. “You have tried every dirty trick in the book and failed to crush us during the last five decades, so what’s new?” the blogger El-Said wrote.
Israeli fears might not be specifically concerned with the 15 international treaties that Abbas signed, but with the remaining treaties he has yet to sign. The 63 treaties and UN agencies that Palestine would like to join include the Rome Statute, which allows its signatories to appeal directly to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Of course, neither Israel nor the United States are signatories of this treaty, and therefore it is highly unlikely that Palestinians, even in such an eventuality, will be able to try Israelis for war crimes against Palestinians. Nevertheless, once joining this important treaty, Israel and its war criminals would be in a much more difficult position, with greater international scrutiny on their behavior in Palestine.
For now, it is clear that Israel’s main problem with Palestinians wanting to make commitments to its citizens are political, not legal.
Israeli officials say freeze has only declarative value, as revenues for March already transferred.
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz
April 13, 2014
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau held a briefing for foreign media agencies on Thursday, announcing his decision to freeze the transfer of tax money that Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority, with funds also being confiscated to pay off PA debts to the Israel Electric Corporation and other entities. This was Israel’s response to the PA’s application to join 15 international conventions and treaties at the United Nations, the bureau said.
The media briefing notwithstanding, senior Israeli officials said that Israel had transferred the entire amount of the tax revenues it had collected in March – approximately $100 million – three or four days earlier.
The senior officials said Netanyahu’s decision to freeze the money, over the objection of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, would only be relevant, if at all, in May, with regard to money collected in April. The officials say the declaration, which had declarative value only, was intended for domestic political consumption, particularly to calm the right flank of Netanyahu’s coalition.
In any case, peace talks between the Israelis, Americans and the Palestinians will continue until April 29 – the date set for their formal conclusion – in an attempt to extend them. If the efforts are successful, the transfer of the Palestinian tax money will take place as usual. And if those efforts fail, Israel could be expected to impose far more severe sanctions than holding back the tax money, anyway.
When the international media reported on the “freezing of the tax funds,” the U.S. government and the PA knew full well that the money had already been transferred a few days previously. That is the reason responses to the announcement were weak. The Palestinians barely condemned it, while U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jan Psaki said, “We would regard such a development as unfortunate.”
The collection of taxes for the Palestinians is part of the Oslo Accords, whereby the money is to be transferred directly to the Palestinian Finance Ministry. Israel has stopped the transfer dozens of times before, yet the Palestinians never reversed whatever had irked the Israelis. Rather, the sanction led to international condemnation, after which Israel released the funds.
Senior officials in Jerusalem said the freezing of the Palestinian taxes went against Israeli interests, because the taxes are used to pay tens of thousands of PA employees, including security personnel. Anarchy could result if the latter are not paid and stay home.
US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power [above] said “On the Palestinian question, I just would underscore that we will oppose attempts at upgrades in status anywhere. We are in very close touch now, we have a monthly meeting with the Israelis where we look out at the sea of international organizations and U.N. entities, including treaty bodies and treaties and so forth, and coordinate with them, and also try to understand whether they’re prioritizing in particular ways sort of– on the lines of what you’re suggesting.
The ICC is of course something that we have been absolutely adamant about. Secretary Kerry has made it very, very clear to the Palestinians, as has the President. I mean, this is something that really poses a profound threat to Israel.”
from Mondoweiss, April 6th, 2014
By Noah Browning, Reuters
April 03, 2014
When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed onto 15 international conventions on Tuesday, he shocked the U.S. sponsors of troubled Middle East peace talks. But the move was carefully limited to avoid American retaliation.
Abbas’s action may have been designed more as a symbolic act of defiance to shore up his tenuous standing among Palestinians frustrated at the diplomatic impasse with Israel over their goal of statehood than a knife in the heart of peacemaking.
As a non-member state in the United Nations, Palestinians can join 63 international agencies and accords. However, by only signing conventions dealing with social and human rights instead of seeking full membership in U.N. bodies, the Palestinians’ foreign minister said they would not provoke U.S. sanctions.
“Frankly speaking, I don’t expect any consequences coming from the U.S. Congress regarding this step at all,” Riad al-Malki told reporters on Wednesday.
“We did not talk about us becoming members of the U.N. specialized agencies in order for the Congress to activate their decision. We are talking about and we are still talking about letters of submission to protocols and conventions, and that’s it.”
Peace negotiations are near collapse amid mutual accusations of bad faith. In the latest such episode, Abbas inked the 15 conventions in search of more leverage against Israel after it refused to free a batch of Palestinian prisoners under terms of a previous agreement. Israel, in turn, said it would not release those detainees without a Palestinian commitment to continue negotiations beyond an initial end-of-April deadline.
U.S. officials criticized what they called “unhelpful, unilateral actions” by both sides.
Abbas’s limited self-rule administration in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is dependent on U.S. support. Around $500 million in annual aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority helps keep its bloated public sector and security forces afloat.
But Congress has repeatedly docked payments as punishment for Palestinian political decisions it disagrees with, including an earlier bid for statehood recognition. A 1990 law also bars U.S. funding to U.N. bodies which recognize a Palestinian state.
The law put the United States in the awkward position of losing its right to vote in the cultural and educational body UNESCO last year after Palestinians acceded to it in 2011.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pleaded with a congressional foreign affairs committee last month to reassess its U.N. divestment policies – a sign of how badly his State Department wishes to avoid diplomatic damage arising from Palestinian moves.
“On the next issue of the U.N. waiver, please, I’ve got to tell you, this is a very one-sided event against us…whether or not the United States loses its vote and gets punished for (Abbas) going (to U.N. agencies) is irrelevant to him. He’ll go, because it’s a tool for him to be able to do things he hopes that, you know, make life miserable for Israel,” Kerry said.
“They’ll go again if they think it’s in their best interests. And who will pay the price? The United States of America. We won’t be able to vote.”
Palestinians seek an independent state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – lands captured by Israel in a 1967 war. While all parties say negotiations are the best path to peace, Palestinians say they may eventually resort to international bodies to force the militarily vastly more powerful Israel to make concessions for peace.
The U.N. General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member state in 2012, entitling them to join the accords which Abbas signed up on Tuesday, including conventions against discrimination against women and for the rights of disabled people as well as the Geneva Conventions.
They burden the Palestinians with few binding commitments on their government, which has been accused of corruption and abuses of detainees and journalists.
Nor do they court retaliation by immediately empowering them to lodge legal complaints against Israel or rattle U.S. foreign policy, a senior U.N. official told Reuters.
“The nuclear option for Abbas would be to go for the International Criminal Court and International Atomic Energy Agency. Those are the ones that matter,” the official said.
“(The latest signing is) actually quite a clever move. Abbas is saying that the Palestinians want to be part of the global community and improve its state building mechanisms by signing up to a load of well-meaning conventions. He can turn around and say, ‘Why should Israel feel threatened by us signing a convention protecting women’s rights?'”
Peace moves by Abbas, a veteran negotiator who has chosen diplomacy over the violent militancy espoused by his predecessors and Palestinian rivals such as the Islamist Hamas, which controls Gaza, have not been welcomed by his countrymen.
Campaigns for recognition at the United Nations, while mostly symbolic, have been praised by many Palestinians.
The 78-year old president – who saw his term expire over five years ago but remains in office because of a stalemate with Hamas over conditions for the next elections – may have been keen to shore up his appeal after Israel over the weekend failed to free a fourth and final group of over two dozen Palestinian prisoners as part of a pledge to restart peace talks last year.
“That’s when he reached his endpoint and said, ‘I’ve got to do another measure that’s going to improve my popularity,’ and going to the U.N. has so far been successful in terms of boosting his popularity,” said Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to Palestinian peace negotiators.
“But as a measure, it’s a weak one. He didn’t go all the way to hold Israel accountable and he didn’t abandon negotiations.”
Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem
Netanyahu orders cutback in contacts with Palestinian Authority
Prime minister orders a halt to high-level contacts with Palestinians on non-security related issues, but exempts peace negotiator Livni from the ban.
By Reuters / Ynet news
April 09, 2014
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered a halt to high-level contacts with the Palestinians on non-security related issues, but exempted his chief peace negotiator from the ban, government officials said on Wednesday.
One Israeli official called Netanyahu’s order a response to “the Palestinians’ grave violation of their commitments in the framework of the peace talks” – an apparent reference to their signing of 15 international conventions last week.
The edict came a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Israel’s announcement on April 1 of plans to build about 700 housing units in East Jerusalem was the immediate cause of peace talks plunging into crisis.
Another official said Israeli cabinet members, directors-general of government ministries and other senior bureaucrats would no longer be allowed to meet their counterparts in the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads Israel’s negotiating team in the troubled US-brokered peace process, and defense and security officials could continue to engage with the Palestinians, the officials said.
Palestinian Labor Minister Ahmad Majdalani, however, downplayed the significance of this decision, noting that “90% of our daily business is dealing with the Israeli military.”
“In fact, there are no meetings between Israeli and Palestinian ministers, apart from finance ministers,” Majdalani told AFP.
Labour leader Israel Herzog [above] said Israel would become more isolated by its decision to punish the Palestinians.
“This decision undermines all international efforts … to revive the negotiations, to proceed with a constructive solution to the challenges facing the peace process,” said PA spokesman Ehab Bseiso.
Israeli and Palestinian officials cooperate on civilian issues such as the environment, water and energy, but Bseiso said this usually does not entail face-to-face meetings.
The PA’s main concern focuses on possible economic curbs.
Under interim peace deals, Israel collects and transfers to the PA some $100 million a month in taxes on goods imported into the Palestinian territories. Israel has previously frozen the payments during times of heightened tensions.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) slammed Netanyahu’s decision, saying it would serve as “fuel for Israel’s haters.”
Herzog warned that this decision was a result of frustration and helplessness, and that it would lead to Israel’s isolation in the world.
Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) called the decision “unnecessary,” saying the cabinet should have discussed it prior to it being made.
Peretz noted he intends to ask Netanyahu for an in-depth discussion on the repercussions of the decision.
At the weekly meeting of his cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu pledged to retaliate for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s signing of the international agreements, including the Geneva Conventions covering the conduct of war and occupation.
Palestinian officials said Abbas signed the conventions in response to Israel’s failure to carry out a promised release of several dozen Palestinian prisoners four days earlier. They were further angered by the subsequent settlement announcement.
Israel said the tender to build new houses in East Jerusalem had already been issued last year and was resubmitted because there had been no initial takers.
AFP, Moran Azoulay and Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report.
Government officials in Israel have said Prime Minister Netanyahu has ordered his cabinet ministers not to meet with their counterparts in the Palestinian Authority. The move undermines efforts at peace talks.
April 09, 2014
The decision by Netanyahu to block cabinet level contact with the Palestinian Authority was communicated by Israel government officials on Wednesday. Israel’s justice minister, Tzipi Livni, is exempt from the contact freeze due to her role as Israel’s chief peace negotiator. Defense and security officials are also exempt.
The Palestinian Authority was critical of the move.
“This decision undermines all international efforts … to revive the negotiations, to proceed with a constructive solution to the challenges facing the peace process,” said PA spokesman Ehab Bseiso, referring to peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians that were restarted last July by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Both sides ‘unhelpful’
According to an Israeli official quoted by Reuters news agency, Netanyahu issued the order after “the Palestinians’ grave violation of their commitments in the framework of the peace talks.”
Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 United Nations treaties and conventions that give his administration greater recognition. An agreement not to sign such documents had been a precondition set by Israel for talks to go ahead.
Israel had agreed to release some Palestinian prisoners and also to refrain from building additional housing settlements, but announced 700 new housing units would be constructed in Jerusalem. Earlier on Wednesday, Kerry had said both sides had taken “unhelpful” steps that were stalling the peace process.
A State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Netanyahu’s move to block cabinet-level meetings was “unfortunate.” “We believe that cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has provided benefits to both sides,” she said.
Bseiso said such meetings between high-level officials are rare in the first place.
“This won’t affect our daily life or government business,” he added.
However, it could affect a tax collection agreement that exists between Israel and the Palestinians. Under interim peace accords, Israel collects taxes on behalf of Palestinians and then transfers the money. The amount is fixed in talks between the two sides’ finance ministers, and is a significant amount of tax revenue for the Palestinians. Bseiso expressed concern that the tax transfers could be interrupted.