President Obama’s recent Africa tour could be of great significance.
Israel continues to lose legitimacy because of its policies toward the Palestinians.
A three-member panel set up by the U.N. Human Rights Council recently concluded that Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine violated the Geneva Conventions and could be liable to prosecution in an international judicial forum.
"These actions fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, the panel said, and if a future Palestinian state ratified the Rome Statute, which created the court, Israel could be called to account for gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law,'" the New York Times reports.
Israel and the United States knew this might be coming. That's why they they worked frantically (and unsuccessfully) last year to thwart an upgrade of the Palestinian status at the United Nations. They were so worried that they tried to have Palestine pledge not to join the court as a precondition to removing their objections.
"A major concern for the Americans is that the Palestinians might use their new status to try to join the International Criminal Court," the New York Times reported then. "That prospect particularly worries the Israelis, who fear that the Palestinians might press for an investigation of their practices in the Occupied Territories."
Thankfully, Palestine did not cave in, and now the opportunity for it to take Israel to court has presented itself sooner than perhaps anyone expected. The human rights panel has provided a roadmap.
"At a news conference, [panel head Christine] Chanet called the report a kind of weapon for the Palestinians if they want to take their grievances before the Hague-based International Criminal Court," the Huffington Post reports.
And the Palestinians may take up the offer.
"All the Israeli settlement activities are illegal and considered to be war crimes according to the International Criminal Court's Rome Statute as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention," said PLO executive committee member and renowned activist Hanan Ashrawi. "This means that Israel is liable to prosecution."
Of course, Israel is furious at the findings, and boycotted the panel's proceedings right from the start. The Obama Administration also chimed in with its disapproval, stating that the panel would not "advance the cause of peace" and that it would "distract the parties from efforts to resolve the issues that divide them." (In reality, the peace process has come to a dead end.)
The panel's recommendations are welcome to anyone wanting to see justice served on the Palestinian issue. The International Criminal Court has been a bit of a disappointment, and here's an opportunity for it to redeem itself. All the previous targets of its investigations have been African countries with little or no muscle. Last April, it refused to pursue a case against Israel on the ground that Palestine was not a full U.N. member. Palestine's recent upgrade from an "entity' to a "non-member state" may already be beginning to change things, although it doesn't completely clear up the legal muddle.
And even if Palestine is able to join the International Criminal Court, the United States in the U.N. Security Council could block any Palestinian move to charge Israel. It should resist the temptation to do that.
It is long past time for Israel to be held legally accountable for its actions in the Occupied Territories.
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "John Kerry's Conventional Mindset."
Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter.