Palestinian Legal strategy against Israel: The Real Prize is Europe

The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to accord Palestine the status of “Observer State” on Thursday, with 138 countries voting in favor of the measure, 41 abstaining, and only 9 voting against. The US and Israel were decisively marginalized, as Italy and Sweden joined France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and several other European countries in voting for the new status. Continental Western Europe and Scandinavia were almost unanimous in supporting the Palestinians, in a kind of declaration of independence from the Obama administration. Even Germany, which for historical reasons is typically reluctant to buck Israel, voted to abstain rather than to oppose.

From the Israeli press, it appears that many government and press figures are absolutely stunned and in a state of angry disbelief over the magnitude of this diplomatic defeat. The Israeli Right wing is so out of touch with how its aggressive policies are seen by the outside world and so self-righteous and arrogant that it even launched a Facebook page urging a boycott of Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli merely for tweeting during the recent Gaza war, “I pray for the safety of the citizens on both sides and for the day when we will live in peace and harmony. Amen.” Caring about human beings from the other side, or praying for peace are apparently verboten in “Strong Israel.” (Somehow I think Ms. Rafaeli’s fan base is secure, inside and outside Israel).

How the World voted:

Green: In favor; Red: Against; Yellow: Abstain; Blue: Absent; Grey: Non-Members

The UNGA vote will not have a big immediate effect on the lives of Palestinians toiling under Israeli occupation. But over time, if the Palestinian leadership deploys it wisely, the new status could have an incremental effect, especially affecting Israel’s relationship to Europe. Europe itself now has the opportunity to play the kind of honest broker between the two sides that the US pretended to but almost never did (Jimmy Carter a partial exception).

Many European countries have elevated the Palestine mission in their capitals to the status of full embassy. Palestine’s new status as UN observer state could well become a basis for it being given further embassies in Europe. Being an embassy rather than a mission strengthens the legal status of Palestine, including in national courts and EU tribunals.

Israel’s economy is deeply dependent on its relationship to Europe, the largest single source of imports into Israel and the second-largest market for exports (after the United States). European investment in Israel is also significant, as are various agreements giving Israel access to European technological advances and promoting scientific and technological exchange.

The European Union imports 15 times more goods from Israeli setter enterprises in the Occupied West Bank than from the Palestinians themselves. Europe is therefore a major, hidden support for Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.

Much speculation has focused on whether Palestine will attempt to take Israel to the International Criminal Court, getting specific Israeli officials or officers indicted for war crimes or crimes against humanity. Such cases may well be brought, and if successful might more or less imprison the individual inside Israel, since traveling abroad would risk arrest by Interpol.

But actually, gaining the standing to provoke resolutions and statements from various United Nations bodies and committees is also important. Such documents can then be cited in the European Parliament and in national parliaments in Europe. Over time, a latticework of human rights law on the treatment of the Palestinians can be erected that might well cause Europeans to boycott settler-made goods or even Israel proper (after all, the squatters are being sent into Palestine by the Likud government). One Israeli strategy over the years has been to attempt to prevent the creation of such a body of resolutions, findings, and judgments (the US veto on the Security Council and the lack of Palestinian standing as a state to bring matters before the UNGA both aided in this Israeli quest for impunity).

A big problem with international law, such as the Geneva Convention on the treatment of Occupied populations (1949), the Apartheid convention, etc., is that they typically do not have attached to them any court in which a practical judgment of guilt can be rendered. The European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court are steps toward achieving such arenas of adjudication for claims of rights violation. But the European Court of Human Rights, e.g., has no mechanism for enforcing its rulings.

It seems to me that any court rulings against Israel will have their major effect through providing a basis for civil society organizations (unions, businesses, associations, NGOs) and parliaments to punish Israeli war crimes, Apartheid crimes, and crimes against humanity through boycotts. Over time, such steps could begin having a major impact on settler enterprises and even on the Israeli economy itself (which is fragile and highly dependent on foreign trade with Europe, since its goods are often shunned in the Middle East).

An example is the recent demand of the youth wing of the Swedish Social Democratic Party that Sweden boycott all settler-made goods. (Sweden, a little unexpectedly, voted for the UNGA resolution yesterday). If such demands proliferate, and the next generation of Europeans feels so strongly on this issue, the settlers could end up bankrupted.

How this could work is clear on a small scale is apparent in the 2010 European Court of Justice ruling that goods from the Occupied West Bank do not fall under the European Union’s preferential trade provisions for Israeli goods. What is important here is that German authorities declined to allow the British firm Brita to import mineral water tariff-free into Germany because they believe it originated with a squatter company in the West Bank. The German decision was upheld by the ECJ.

Expect to see more such decisions by governments in Europe, and by its courts. The Palestinian victory at the UN will likely begin creating a whole set of new opportunities for the Palestinians to make their case in the most important Israeli market.

26 Responses

  1. It is not really unexpectedly that Sweden voted for the resolution. It was rather the swedish vote against Palestine joining Unesco that was unexpected. The reason for that vote seems to be because the education ministry happens to be held by a pro-israeli party.

    • “One small step for an oppressed people, one giant leap for mankind.”

      I agree with the first part of this statement but don’t believe mankind is capable of giant leaps in favor of human rights. As Gandhi said of Western civilization, it would be a good idea. Any effort to improve life for Palestinians is a good idea but one that Israel and its puppets in Washington will do all they can to reverse.

  2. A long-overdue step by the UN, and America betrayed its own heritage by voting against the Palestinians. This is a case of the marginalized AIPAC lobby being more important than a simple case of human rights.

    Yes, there are “terrorists” in Gaza. But I wonder how many of us, people who are otherwise peaceful and law abiding, would start lobbing rockets if we were imprisoned in a tiny sliver of land with no way in or out, and the basic necessities of our life were controlled by a foreign government that refused to act rationally.

    As for the bizarre Facebook page about Bar Rafaeli, someone posted a comment at it stating, “Bar Refaeli prefers the life of civilians over generals’ wars. Don’t we all?”

    Isreal, it is time for you to start acting like a civilized nation.

  3. Funny how Palestinians don’t qualify for Arab Spring. Also funny how the fractious Frankensteinian Syrian Opposition will be recognized by the U.S. before the Palestinians get their overdue recognition from the U.S. in the U.N. where it really counts.

    Maybe if Gazans threw a big Spring Break at the beaches every year they and the rest of Palestine could get some respect from the U.S.

    One good thing about having a rational actor in the White House, even if he still opts for continuing the U.S.’s utter enabling of Likudnik Israel, is that Europeans do get some breathing room and are allowed to act more rationally themselves.

    I understand the peeling away of U.S. support for Israeli war crimes, past, present, and future, has to be gradual, but does it really have to be as glacial as it is? Does a second-term American president have to fear a ‘special’ assassination squad or two if he/she tilts toward fairness and leans on Nuremburg?

  4. I think it’s looking good, Juan. Even if you can’t see your way clear to seeing how exactly this will help Palestine, it seems to me that there is definately a shift in the right direction.

    Significantly, as you noted also, the Israeli press is perceiving this as a defeat:

    link to haaretz.com

    written by Barak Ravid, the longtime diplomatic correspondent of Haaretz, he seems to be politically well connected in Israel

    In the US mainstream media, very good spin as far as I’m concerned. They seem to have left in the dust the usual stifling Israeli propaganda line. An example from Time Magazine — although this might not be in the print edition, but still… We like to hear a bit of good news, right?

    “The United Nations voted overwhelmingly Thursday to recognize a Palestinian state, a long-sought victory for the Palestinians but an embarrassing diplomatic defeat for the United States.”

    Read more: link to world.time.com

    Other US mainstream news reports also seeing the US as being isolated on this issue. I think it’s a good day :>)

  5. World has finally taken a big step in the right direction that was overdue since long.

    Naysayers are far behind the realities of the time.

    Congratulations’ to all those voted “Yes” in favor of Palestine.

  6. The BBC isreporting that Israel is planning to build 3,000 new settler homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank:

    link to bbc.co.uk

    As Talleyrand is supposed to have said – worse than a crime, a blunder.

    • Indeed. I can see why the saying was attributed to Talleyrand, the ultimate pragmatist.

      It is always upsetting when governments act crazy. Evil, evil we can deal with. Crazy is a lot harder to deal with.

  7. One has to wonder if the Palestinian leadership, of all flavors, will take the moral high ground and exercise some restraint and magnanimity toward the parts of the Israeli polity that have gone down that other road. Or whether, vengeance being as sweet (or maybe bittersweet, or pleasingly toxic) as it is, the seductions of cheap short-term seemingly satisfying actions and reprisals will win out.

    It’s not like there are any Major Players in the Great Game that actually give a fig about the long term. It’s all, always, “What’s in it for me or my little group, now!” and “What can I/we get away with?” And given the physical and moral state of the planet and its direction, it’s pretty clear that there’s no stability or longevity to be derived from any supposed “balance of terror” and libertarian-myth “checks and balances” of mutual greed. And of course every polity has more than its share of spoiler True Believers and absolutists happy to do violence to their own, and everyone else.

    Of course, there’s always Hope…

  8. Yes the state of Palestine will have access to the ICT, on paper it is great but but do you want to bet that the first only ones to be judged will be Palestinians…

  9. “The European Union imports 15 times more goods from Israeli setter enterprises in the Occupied West Bank than from the Palestinians themselves. Europe is therefore a major, hidden support for Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.”

    Typo? Should “setter” be “settler”?

  10. “Maybe if Gazans threw a big Spring Break at the beaches every year they and the rest of Palestine could get some respect from the U.S.”

    Alternatively, if Arab money were to outbid AIPAC for the favors of the political courtesans in Washington then we might see some changes for the benefit of Palestinians.

  11. The resolution by itself does not mean very much, sort of like putting the Palestinians in the closet at the UN while the rest get to sit in the setting room.

    But the far-ranging implications are enormous, not right away, but cumulative. If the PLO has any balls, it will first sign the Rome statute.

    I wouldn’t miss this for anything after 45 years of working for justice in Palestine

  12. Listened to the Diane Rheme show; nothing but Israeli apologists who seemed to find the worst in all Arab developments. Sour grapes.

    Look for Palestinians to effectively turn Israel into a prison camp via the threat of prosecution throughout the civilized world.

  13. It was so exciting to watch all of the speeches. The Israeli rep was a fool repeating all of the Bible says it belongs to Jews, ancient homeland 4000 years ago yada yada all of the usual baloney. Abbas was outstanding “last chance for a two state solution” and Roger Waters “seize the moment” just nailed the history and called the US and Israel bullies. Jolly good for him. Rice seemed like an apartheid protector thug afterwards. He demeanor etc looked foolish too.

    And of course the very next day Israel announces more expansion of illegal settlements. Israel trying to destroy Israel based on the 67 border..they just keep proving that. Closing the corridor to a two state solution. Leaving only ONE STATE ONE VOTE. They are going to self implode

    • I think the chronological order was
      1) Israel denounces the unilateral UN vote (?)
      2) Israel announces 3,000 new (illegal) settlement homes.

  14. I thought that European Court of Human Rights rulings were now enforceable within the EU (only) by some mechanism or other, due to the EU adopting ECHR law as part of its law. Check this?

  15. “Even old friends like Germany refused to stand alongside us. There were external factors, but it is hard not to see this as a total failure for our diplomacy which will obviously have consequences,” said a senior official, who declined to be named.
    That just about says it all.
    Like US Republicans, it’s a new day, and there’s massive denial going on.

  16. Let us hope that the people of Israel get the message and kick the murderous Likud into history.

  17. “Even Germany, which for historical reasons is typically reluctant to buck Israel, voted to abstain rather than to oppose.”

    It is one of the great ironies of recent history that Germany’s feeling of guilt for the Holocaust facilitated the German people to be complicit in Israeli crimes against humanity in Palestine. It is time for younger Germans to recognize they have no need to feel guilty for the sins of their grandfathers but they must face their own guilt if they accede to sins committed in the present in their name.

  18. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel says that if the Palestinian state now joins the International Criminal Court “the issue of Israeli settlements could become an issue of international criminal law.” link to maannews.net

    “This could potentially open the door to the prosecution of Israelis responsible for establishing or expanding settlements,” ACRI said in a briefing on the UN bid.

    Under international law, transferring populations into an occupied territory is considered a war crime.
    Professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law and author of Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law, Francis A. Boyle said today:

    “This can be the start of a ‘Legal Intifadah’ by Palestine against Israel:

    1. “Palestine can join the Rome St…atute for the International Criminal Court and file a Complaint with the ICC against the illegal settlements and settlers
    , who are committing war crimes;

    2. “Palestine can join the Statute for the International Court of Justice, sue Israel at the World Court, and break the illegal siege of Gaza;

    3. “Palestine can join the Law of the Sea Convention and get its fair share of the enormous gas fields lying off the coast of Gaza, thus becoming economically self-sufficient;

    4. “Palestine can become a High Contracting Party to the Four Geneva Conventions [this deals with the laws of war];

    5. “Palestine can join the International Civil Aviation Organization and gain sovereign, legal control over its own airspace;

    6. “Palestine can join the International Telecommunications Union and gain sovereign legal control over its own airwaves, phone lines, bandwidths.”

  19. I’m ashamed to know that Canada voted against the new Palestinian nation-state. Sad.

    • I’m ashamed to know that the government of my own country (Canada) voted against recognition. I’m also embarrassed by the utterly pathetic “reasons” they gave for voting against it. Given who the P.M. is though, I’m not at all surprised. I think that under any of the previous Conservative party P.M.’s there would have been a good chance that they might have actually voted yes, but not with Harper calling the shots.

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