Israel Threatens the Palestinian Authority over the ICC
Economic blackmail is a part of politics — but Israel’s latest ultimatum to the Palestinian Authority regarding the ICC is still unfortunate:
Israel has warned the Palestinian Authority that it would condition permission for a second cellular telephone provider to operate in the West Bank – an economic issue of critical importance to the PA leadership – on the Palestinians withdrawing their request at the International [Criminal] Court.
The issue of a second cellular provider is at the center of talks between the PA, the international Quartet, and Israel, and has been ongoing for some months. Currently the sole provider is Pal-Tel, and the PA prime minister, Salam Fayyad, considers the introduction of another carrier as an important step in improving the civilian infrastructure in the West Bank. The project is central to Watanya, the company that is set to serve as the second provider, and profits are expected to be substantial.
However, if the project is not approved by October 15, the PA will be forced to pay a penalty estimated at $300 million, the sum that has already been invested in licensing and infrastructure.
In Israel the argument is that the PA is being unfair, and that at the time of the operation in the Gaza Strip, last winter, its senior officials encouraged their Israeli counterparts to step up the pressure on Hamas, and even to attempt to bring its rule in the territory to the point of collapse. However, at a latter stage they joined those decrying Israel and its alleged actions in the Strip.
In light of this tension, the chief of staff conditioned his approval of a second cellular provider to the Palestinians’ withdrawing their appeal to the court.
“The PA has reached the point where it has to decide whether it is working with us or against us,” senior figures in the defense establishment have said. At the PA it is being said, in response to the Israeli demands, that Abbas and Fayyad will water down their appeal to the IC[C], though they will refuse to promise that it will rescinded entirely.
I have been critical of Moreno-Ocampo’s failure to immediately reject the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to accept the jurisdiction of the Court on an ad hoc basis. The likelihood that the Appeals Chamber would ever approve such a move, however, is essentially zero. So it would be very unfortunate if Israel dealt a serious economic blow to the PA — and to the Palestinians living in the West Bank — as punishment for an effort that has no chance of succeeding.