Europe uses Israeli elections as excuse for inaction

Opinion polls indicate that it would be unwise to place a bet on March 2 as the date Israeli television channels air the final episode of the popular reality show, “The story of a permanent interim government.” With the opening date of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial on charges of corruption set for March 17, Israel could become the world’s first democracy whose leader splits his time between Cabinet sessions and court sessions. The serial elections – with the third looming on March 2 – not only help Netanyahu’s Likud party hold on to power, they delay the annexation of the West Bank settlements based on US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Europe uses Israeli elections as excuse for inaction
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meets with Germany’s counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the President’s residence in Jerusalem, January 22, 2020. Atef Safadi/Pool via REUTERS – RC2ZKE9XFY5A

The back-to-back elections also enable opponents of the plan – chief among them the European Union (EU) and leading European states – to continue hemming and hawing and dozing in the bleachers. EU foreign ministers who met Feb. 17 to discuss the Trump plan and recognition of a Palestinian state decided to postpone their discussion until after next month’s Israeli elections. “We briefly discussed how best to relaunch a political process … and how best to defend internationally agreed parameters of equal rights and international law,” the ministers’ communique stated. How do they know that Israel will have an elected government next month? How can they be sure that if Blue and White leader Benny Gantz heads the next government rather than Netanyahu, he will have sufficient Knesset votes to impose the principles of “protecting equal rights and international law” in the occupied territories?

Haaretz wrote Feb. 17 that the European proposal on recognition of a Palestinian state was instigated by the foreign ministers of France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg, Malta and Slovenia. Even as their initiative was introduced, a group of European states signed on to a completely contradictory initiative. Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary, in addition to Uganda, Australia and Brazil, filed briefs with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague seeking to be recognized as “friends of the court” in order to argue that the tribunal does not have jurisdiction to try Israel on war crimes charges allegedly perpetuated in the occupied territories. One of the main arguments of the “friends” is that the court is only authorized to adjudicate events occurring in sovereign states, whereas the West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied territories, not part of sovereign Israel. In other words, even as France is seeking to bring the occupation to an end, Germany is trying to perpetuate it.

Israel mobilized the support of Germany and the other states that have taken a stand on the matter following the December 2019 ruling by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that there was “reasonable basis” to investigate alleged war crimes in Palestinian territories (not only by Israel). Since Israel is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, under which the ICC was established, Israel’s attorney general is not authorized to intervene in the matter directly. Instead, in addition to the help of foreign diplomats, the attorney general is being aided by Israeli and Jewish right-wing organizations, and even the Israel Bar Association. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are supported by organizations such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and opinions of leading international legal scholars.

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