“Promise not to prosecute Israeli war criminals, not to go for full UN membership, not to seek justice but submit to rigged talks, and we’ll support you”
Britain’s Foreign Office, on its website, states loudly and clearly:
“The UK is committed to upholding international justice and all of our international obligations. Our core principle is clear. Those guilty of war crimes must be brought to justice whether they are Israeli or any other nationality. We are also committed to ensuring that UK systems are robust in meeting its international law obligations.”
Yet ugly rumours are flying that the British government twisted the arm of President Abbas and told him the UK would only support Palestine’s modest upgrade to ‘observer state’ at the UN (to be decided tomorrow, Thursday) if he pledged not to pursue Israeli war criminals through the International Criminal Court.
In a statement issued yesterday by the Palestinian Mission in London, Ambassador Hassassian says: “It was reported recently in several media outlets that in exchange for its – the British government’s – support of the Palestinian UN bid it wants guarantees from Abbas including: (1) That the Palestinians will not bring cases against Israeli officials to the ICC or other UN agencies…(2) That the Palestinians will not use UN observer status as a basis for a renewed appeal to the UN Security Council for full membership to the UN…(3) That Abbas will commit to renewing peace talks with Israel without preconditions.
“Such steps would undermine the Palestinian leadership and its credibility with its own constituents. The British government is once again putting conditions for its support to the Palestinian people instead of shouldering its historic responsibility towards them… I urge the British government to fulfil its responsibility and stand at the right side of history by recognizing the state ofPalestine and voting in favour of an enhanced Palestinian status at the UN.”
This morning the Palestinian embassy in London was unable to verify that any such pressure was put on Abbas. But that is not to say it didn’t happen and numerous media sources got it wrong. The conversation was likely to have taken place in Ramallah, and Ramallah is not noted for its responsiveness to media questions.
A last-minute message from the PLO communications office reads:
“I can confirm that there has been British pressure to deprive of our right to ratify an international treaty. I can also ratify that we have been very clear in telling the UK that we are not going to compromise on our sovereignty. The resolution haven’t been and will not be modified to adequate any objection to our right to self determination and protection of our people.”
What exactly that means I don’t know. And they still won’t say who put the squeeze on Abbas.
If nothing else, this episode demonstrates once again the deplorable state of the PLO/PA’s media skills.
If indeed any attempt were made by the UK government to deprive the Palestinians of the status, privileges and freedoms enjoyed by their neighbours it would be a deep disgrace on the people of Britain.
Solemn and binding obligations to pursue war criminals… do they mean nothing?
All states that are party to the Geneva Conventions – and that includes the UK - are under a solemn and binding obligation to seek out those suspected of having committed grave breaches of the Conventions and bring them to justice. There should be no hiding place for those suspected of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
But what we’re up against in the UK is a biased and unprincipled administration that wants to let ‘friendly’ war criminals off and protect them from arrest while they visit Britain. The government recently watered down UK law on universal jurisdiction arguing that foreign politicians they happen to like, no matter how thuggish, should never be made to feel unwelcome. The overriding principle that no-one, regardless of nationality, should feel able to commit war crimes with impunity, is sacrificed so that the likes of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, with the blood of thousands of Palestinian dead and wounded on her hands, can go shopping in London.
Livni, the pin-up girl of the Knesset, is reported to be making a comeback in Israeli politics at the head of a new party in January’s elections. Seems our Foreign Office chaps are hopelessly smitten by her.
Meanwhile mountains of evidence of Israel’s war crimes are just waiting to be tested in the International Criminal Court.
The purpose of the ICC is “to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community”. The Court has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by nationals of a State Party or on the territory of a State Party since July 2002.
115 states have signed up. The UK is one of them, and so too is Afghanistan. But rogue states like the US, Israel and Saudi skulk in the outer darkness.
A further 34 countries, including Russia, have signed but not ratified. Three — Israel, Sudan and the United States — signed and then, presumably realising their conduct was not up to the standards expected and no doubt wishing to undermine its work whenever it suited them, ‘unsigned’.
Palestine declared its voluntary acceptance of the ICC’s jurisdiction in 2009, but whether it should be regarded as a ‘State’ as required by Article 12(3) of Rome Statute has been the subject of much debate. In April this year the ICC General Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the court would not accept a Palestinian demand to investigate alleged war crimes by Israel untilPalestine was recognize as a state by the UN General Assembly. “In order to proceed we need the General Assembly of the UN accepting Palestine as an observer state. As soon as this is done we can proceed.”
If the ICC does acquire jurisdiction, it will inherit a whole shed-full of damning evidence gathered not only by Goldstone but many other organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Arab League Fact Finding Committee.
Consequently Israel and its obedient friends America and Britain are getting edgy.
In the meantime the PLO Executive’s Hanan Ashrawi has announced that Palestine’s final resolution was submitted to the UN on Monday, so all this last-minute bickering and arm-twisting is academic. It has been too late to change the wording since last weekend.
Asked whether Palestine would file complaints with the International Criminal Court, Ashrawi said it would be for the Palestinian leadership to decide. She also said that the Palestinian Authority would not abandon any of the inalienable Palestinian rights guaranteed by international law.
Within Palestinian ranks there seems to be a measure of unity. Hamas’s chief-in-exile Khaled Meshaal and fellow political bureau member Izzat al-Rishq said on Monday that they supported Abbas in going before the United Nations, but warned that Palestinian “constants and rights” must not be compromised nor any inch of Palestinian land sacrificed.
Whether Hamas’s leaders-on-the-ground are quite so enthusiastic isn’t clear. However, prime minister Ismail Haniyeh said “nobody is against statehood, and (my government) supports any political move to establish a Palestinian state on the occupied Palestinian territory.”
Following is the transcript of the shameful statement made on Wednesday 28th November by William Hague:
Mr Speaker, with permission I will make a statement on the Palestinian resolution to be moved at the UN General Assembly tomorrow.
This resolution calls for the upgrading of the Palestinian UN status from observer to non-member observer state.
I wish to inform the House of discussions the Government has had about this with the Palestinian leadership, and how we intend to proceed.
Achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of our top international priorities.
We support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state; based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a just, fair and agreed settlement for refugees.
This is the only way to secure a sustainable end to the conflict, and it has wide support in this House and across the world.
There has been a dangerous impasse in the peace process over the last two years. The pace of settlement building has increased, rocket attacks on Israel have increased, frustration and insecurity has deepened on both sides, and the parties have not been able to agree a return to talks.
The crisis in Gaza and tragic loss of Palestinian and Israeli life shows why the region and the world cannot afford this vacuum in the peace process.
I pay tribute today to Egypt and the United States and to the UN Secretary General for their role in bringing about a ceasefire in Gaza, and we now need to build on it to bring about a lasting peace, including an end to the smuggling of weapons and the opening up of Gaza for trade as well as for aid.
In the House last week I set out our belief that the United States should launch a new initiative to revive the Middle East Peace Process urgently.
If progress on negotiations is not made next year, then the two-state solution could become impossible to achieve.
Yesterday I said to Secretary Clinton that such an effort led by the US would need to be more intense than anything seen since the Oslo Peace Accords, and it should backed by a more active role for European nations.
Given the overriding need for both Israelis and Palestinians to return to negotiations as soon as possible, we asked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to move a resolution at the UN General Assembly for the time being.
Our view was that it would be better to give the US administration the opportunity to set out a new initiative. We pointed out that a UN resolution would be depicted by some as a move away from bilateral negotiations with Israel. We were also concerned about the considerable financial risks to the Palestinian Authority, at a time when their situation is already precarious, if a vote led to a strong backlash from Israel and within the US political system.
Nevertheless President Abbas has decided to press ahead – a decision we must respect. No one should be in any doubt that he is a courageous man of peace.
Our central objective remains that of ensuring a rapid return to credible negotiations in order to secure a two state solution. This is the guiding principle that will determine the way in which we will vote on any resolution at any time.
The frustration felt by many ordinary Palestinians about the lack of progress in the peace process is wholly understandable. Illegal settlement activity in the West Bank, which we condemn, threatens the very viability of the peace process, and after many decades the Palestinians still do not have the state they aspire to.
That is why we have consistently asked Israel to make a more decisive offer to Palestinians than in the recent past, and have also called on Palestinians not to set preconditions for negotiations.
We want to see a Palestinian state and look forward to the day when its people can enjoy the same rights and dignity as those of any other nation.
But for us to support a resolution at the UN it is important that the risks to the peace process are addressed, so that the chances of negotiations beginning after it are enhanced rather than diminished.
I spoke to President Abbas on Monday and my Right Honourable Friend the Deputy Prime Minister spoke to him yesterday.
We explained that while there is no question of the United Kingdom voting against the resolution, in order to vote for it we would need certain assurances or amendments.
The first is that the Palestinian Authority should indicate a clear commitment to return immediately to negotiations without preconditions.
This is the essential answer to the charge that by moving the resolution the Palestinians are taking a path away from negotiations.
Given the great difficulty in restarting negotiations in recent years, and the risk that some will see this resolution as a step that is inconsistent with such negotiations, this commitment is indispensable to us.
The second assurance relates to membership of other specialised UN agencies and action in the International Criminal Court.
Our country is a strong supporter across all parties of international justice and the International Criminal Court. We would ultimately like to see a Palestinian state represented throughout all the organs of the United Nations. However we judge that if the Palestinians were to build on this resolution by pursuing ICC jurisdiction over the Occupied Territories at this stage it could make a return to negotiations impossible. This is extremely important given that we see 2013 as a crucial year for the reasons I have described for the Middle East Peace Process.
We have also said to President Abbas that we would like to see language in the resolution which does not prejudge any deliberations by the United Nations Security Council, and for it to be clear that the resolution does not apply retrospectively.
We believe these changes would not be difficult to make; that if made either in the text of the resolution or in accompanying statements as appropriate they would win wider support for the resolution without any prejudice to final status issues; and that they would increase the prospects for negotiations moving ahead.
Up until the time of the vote itself we will remain open to voting in favour of the resolution, if we see public assurances by the Palestinians on these points.
However in the absence of these assurances, the United Kingdom would abstain on the vote. This would be consistent with our strong support for the principle
of Palestinian statehood but our concern that the resolution could set the peace process back.
So we call again on the Palestinian Authority to make every possible amendment to win the widest possible support and to give the strongest possible assurances;
We call on Israel to be ready to enter negotiations and to agree a two-state solution before it is too late.
Whatever happens at the General Assembly we call on Israel to avoid reacting in a way that damages the peace process or Israel’s international standing. We would not support a strong reaction which undermined the peace process by sidelining President Abbas or risked the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.
And we look to the US, with our strong and active support, to do all it can in the coming weeks and months to restart this process.
The only way to give the Palestinian people the state that they need and deserve, and the Israeli people the security and peace they are entitled to, is through a negotiated two-state solution.
This requires now Israelis and Palestinians to return to negotiations, Israel to stop illegal settlement building, Palestinian factions to reconcile with each other and the international community led by the United States and supported by European nations to make the necessary huge effort to revive the peace process.