(Two) State of Affairs: Universal jurisdiction abuses are now being curtailed, now let's negotiate for peace

Tzipi Livni travels to the United Kingdom today on a 'special mission'. This is the first step in Britain returning to a common sense policy toward Israel.

Tzipi Livni: Now in the UK
Nathalie Tamam
On 7 October 2011 09:47

This week Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni visited the UK to meet with William Hague; her first visit since 2009 when an arrest warrant was issued against her over her role in Operation Cast Lead.

Livni was able to travel to the UK after the Coalition Government reformed the law that allowed private citizens to seek arrest warrants for spurious war crimes claims in the UK. But after the long process of legislative change, Livni and other Israelis may be prevented from traveling freely abroad if the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations succeeds.

While the current bid for UN Membership will likely fail because of a lack of sufficient support, attempts to obtain a ‘compromise’ solution; an upgrade to non-member observer state in the General Assembly stands a very high chance of success. The consequence of such an upgrade would in practice amount to recognition of statehood by over 120 member states of the UN.

Inferring statehood on the Palestinians would unleash a host of problems for the peace process. In the New York Times, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas himself endorsed the particular tactic of using a statehood bid to target Israel by legal means. He explained that statehood would ‘pave the way’ for Palestinians to ‘pursue claims against Israel’ at the UN and other international bodies.

Any Palestinian declaration raises a host of legal issues regarding statehood and recognition. These issues are hazy and uncertain and as yet even international lawyers cannot be absolutely clear on the long term effects however it is widely believed that any upgrade of the Palestinian Territories in the General Assembly could open the door to acceptance by the International Criminal Court of Palestinian statehood and following that, for the instigation of investigations.

The Palestinians would be afforded the opportunity to bring petitions against Israelis. Once again this may result in Israelis being unable to travel without fear of arrest for war crimes claims by Palestinians and other campaign groups, only this time, the problem we experienced in the UK would be catapulted onto the international stage.

The involvement of the ICC would cause significant disruption for the peace process as a whole as well as just for Israel. Israelis would come under enormous pressure to adopt their own series of unilateral measures outside the agreed process.

Indeed it is arguable that the consequence of such a material breach of the Oslo Accords by the Palestinians could result in the collapse of agreements on a whole range of security and economic issues.

Even if the Palestinians were to come to the realisation that getting the ICC involved undermined long term peace with Israel, there is no simple way of undoing the consequences of ICC investigations or prosecutions and they would be in no position to stop them.

If the ‘compromise’ upgrade to Observer State is pursued, then the ICC must be a red line for the UK. The British Government should press for a commitment by the Palestinians to withdraw the ICC declaration or to suspend it until a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is achieved.

Others have written on the possibility of the US imposing sanctions or punitive action on the Palestinian territories for their decision to pursue a unilateral bid for UN statehood. The UK and the EU as major donors to the Palestinians should be steadfast in ensuring maximum leverage on the ICC issue.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said himself at the United Nations this month, that after a peace agreement is signed, Israel would be the first country to welcome a Palestinian State to the UN. The British Government needs to ensure it takes all the necessary steps to increase the chances of resuscitating the peace process and encourage a return to negotiations which can be the only real path to peace.

Nathalie Tamam is the Political Director of Conservative Friends of Israel. You can follow CFI on Twitter: @CFoI

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