Thinking Aloud: Much Ado About Nothing, the Israeli-Palestinian Authority Edition

Jan. 5, 2015 by Darius

Last Saturday, Israel cut off the transfer to tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority.  Again.  The Israeli tax freeze came in response to the Palestinian leadership’s decision to seek membership in the International Criminal Court to pursue war crimes charges against Israel.  It’s a pointless continuation of a pointless game.

The Palestinian Authority, for its part, has unilaterally sought membership in international organizations in defiance of US and Israeli warnings because, quite simply, the PA has no other options.  Bilateral talks have ground to a halt and will not be restarting any time soon, and the PA lacks the political legitimacy in Palestine itself to even consider anything game-changing.  ICC membership is a far cry from game-changing: even if Palestine does gain membership in the ICC and manages to bring war crimes charges against Israel, Israel will have no trouble following much of the rest of the world in simply ignoring whatever rulings the ICC may hand down.  (Think of Andrew Jackson’s statement after the US Supreme Court ruled against him in Worcester v. Georgia: “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”)  Any resulting sanctions against Israel (from Europe, since the US has an attitude towards the ICC similar to Israel’s) would not really depend on the ICC: they would instead reflect longer-term shifts in European public opinion.  Therefore, Palestine stands to gain little from this latest gambit.

Israel, for its part, is prepared to continue withholding tax revenues from the PA in retaliation for the PA’s decision to seek membership in the ICC, and Israel has not ruled out further punitive measures.  But Israel won’t do anything more than, effectively, inconvenience and annoy the PA.  Israel could probably put enough pressure on the PA that it would fall as an organization.  But such actions would be seriously detrimental to Israel itself.  Israel values its security cooperation arrangements with the PA very highly, and such cooperation has done a great deal to improve security in the West Bank and Israel.  It isn’t worth throwing away to punish the PA.

So neither side stands to gain or lose anything significant from the current spat over the ICC.  It might be too much to expect anything helpful to happen during an Israeli election year, but these latest developments just destabilize the status quo that much more without offering anything to replace it.

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