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As International Criminal Court Considers Probing Nazi regime for War Crimes


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As International Criminal Court Considers Probing Israel for War Crimes, US Moves to Defund UN Palestine Refugee Agency

By Amy GoodmanDemocracy Now! 

Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza and the ongoing expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Despite the threat, the Israeli defense minister announced on Tuesday Israel would approve the construction of hundreds of new settlement homes in the West Bank. This comes as Sweden criticized the Trump administration for threatening to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of annual aid to the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees. Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi compared President Trump’s threat to cut off aid money to blackmail. For more, we speak with author and scholar Norman Finkelstein. His new book is titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. He is the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza and the ongoing expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. According to the Israeli TV station Channel 10, Israel’s National Security Council recently warned Israeli lawmakers that the ICC could open an investigation at some point this year. Despite the warning, the Israeli defense minister announced Tuesday Israel will approve the construction of hundreds of new settlement homes in the West Bank. Palestinian leaders began calling for an ICCprobe soon after the 2014 assault on Gaza, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including over 500 children.

This comes as Israel and the United States are facing growing international condemnation over their treatment of Palestinians. Last month, the United Nations voted 128 to 9 in favor of a resolution calling for the United States to drop its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Sweden criticized the Trump administration for threatening to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of annual aid to the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees. Sweden’s ambassador to the United Nations said the cutting off of the aid, quote, “would be destabilizing for the region.” Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi compared President Trump’s threat to cut off aid money to blackmail.

HANAN ASHRAWI: I would say that Palestinian rights are not for sale, and we will not succumb to blackmail. There are imperatives and requirements for peace. And unilaterally, President Trump has destroyed them. He has even sabotaged our efforts at achieving a just peace and getting freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people. By recognizing occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he has not only disqualified himself as a peace broker or a mediator by taking sides and by becoming complicit in Israel’s occupation, he has also totally sabotaged, he has totally destroyed, the very foundations of peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Part of the UN aid money goes to refugees living in occupied Gaza, the most densely populated area in the world. For years, the United Nations and aid groups have warned conditions in Gaza are almost unlivable due to the decade-long Israeli military blockade and multiple Israeli assaults on the region. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, seven out of 10 people in Gaza live off humanitarian aid. The unemployment rate, 44 percent. Electricity cuts can reach up to 20 hours every day.

Gaza is the subject of a new book by the author and scholar Norman Finkelstein. It’s titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. He’s the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.

Norman Finkelstein, welcome back to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with the latest news of this report of a possible ICC, International Criminal Court, war crimes probe into the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, there’s been long-standing ICC investigations of Israeli conduct, and this is another phase, the report in the Israeli press that it’s moving along. The chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, she has been very soft, as has the previous ICC chief prosecutor, when it comes to prosecuting anyone except Africans. Since the founding of the ICC in 1998, the only persons who have ever been tried are African leaders or Africans accused of significant human rights crimes. It’s called — by many African states, it’s called the International Caucasian Court, not Criminal Court.

What will come of this, it’s unclear. It’s possible that the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will use the Palestine case to demonstrate that not only Africans are prosecuted, as a way of demonstrating that she’s going to break the precedent. I, myself, have contacted her, because, as I said, it’s been an ongoing process, and what happened in 2014, which I discuss at length in my book, is part of the investigation. And people who know her and have been enthusiastic about my manuscript have also contacted her.

I would also just want to make one point. Of course an investigation would be a good thing. Of course an investigation is warranted. However, we have to bear in mind that the Palestinians have won many important political and legal victories. In 2004, the International Court of Justice found in favor of the Palestinians across the board. Then there was the Goldstone Report, which was another important victory. The problem is not that the Palestinians lack in political and legal victories. The problem is that the Palestinian leadership, or so-called leadership, has never translated the legal and political victories into something practical on the ground. And so, even if — and I’m hoping it will happen — but even if there’s an ICC victory for the Palestinians, even on that remote possibility, the problem is: What do you do with it? And the Palestinian leadership has never done anything with its victories.

AMY GOODMAN: So, before we get into your inquest into Gaza, I want to also ask about this threat of the US cutting off millions of dollars to UNRWA, to the Palestinian refugee agency. Explain the significance of this agency and why Palestinians rely on this so much.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: OK. First of all, you have to bear in mind that 70 percent of Palestinians in Gaza — let’s just call them Gazans — 70 percent of Gazans are classified as refugees. That means, technically, actual refugees and children of refugees. But under the categorization used in Gaza, they’re all classified as refugees. So that’s 70 percent. Secondly, half of Gaza’s population, or slightly more, are children. And so you have this overwhelmingly refugee child population, and they rely overwhelmingly on UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

UNRWA is financed between 25 and 30 percent by the United States, and that comes to about $300 million a year. And so, the threat of cutting the money to UNRWA would be — it would be devastating for an already devastated population, overwhelmingly children. Nonetheless, I would like to keep things in proportion. So, it would be a catastrophe, no doubt about it, if UNRWA is defunded by the United States. However, let’s look at the numbers. We’re talking about $300 million annually. Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, he paid $500 million for a yacht. That would have covered all of UNRWA’s expenses, American — the American portion, for more than a year. He paid $450 million for a da Vinci painting. That would have covered all US expenses, again, for more than a year. He paid $300 million for a house in Versailles. That would have covered all the UN expense — UNRWA expenses by the United States. And God only knows how much money he paid for Tom Friedman’s column in The New York Times.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t you explain what you’re referring to, the op-ed piece in The New York Times about Mohammad bin Salman —

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. There are —

AMY GOODMAN:  — the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: There are young people here, so I have to be careful about my language. But all it was was a very expensive — it was a —

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, be careful. No cursing on here.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: No, it’s not cursing. But it was a protracted — it was a verbal blowjob, probably the most expensive one in world history, that was administered to Mohammad bin Salman, the column he wrote in the Times. It was vintage Tom Friedman. He goes into Saudi Arabia for three days, says everything is wonderful, talks to the crown prince’s sister, who’s representative of the people of Saudi Arabia, says they’re all very enthusiastic about him, and then he walks away and writes this column.

AMY GOODMAN: Hardly mentioning in this column, among other issues, Yemen. Mohammad bin Salman, who is in charge of the US-backed Saudi assault on Yemen.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yes. Well, Yemen is — look, the fact of the matter is that every reactionary, every regressive movement in the Arab world is financed by the Saudis, whether it’s Yemen, whether it’s Bahrain, whether it’s Syria, whether it’s Egypt. Everywhere, it’s the Saudi money. And it’s also, incidentally, the Saudi money that keeps the Palestinian Authority afloat. That’s why they have to pay all — they have to pay deference to the Saudis. It’s a wretched, parasitic regime.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Jared Kushner’s relationship with Mohammad bin Salman? And how does that play in here? He’s gone repeatedly to Saudi Arabia. Jared Kushner, senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Trump, apparently is in charge of the Middle East peace process. And they have, apparently, cooked up a plan — Jared Kushner and Mohammad bin Salman — for peace in the Middle East.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, first of all, we have to look at the context: Jared Kushner knows nothing about anything. Jared Kushner is only there because he’s married to Trump’s daughter. He’s the son of Charles Kushner. Charles Kushner is a real estate mogul, a billionaire who has the distinguishing characteristic of actually having been arrested and spending time in jail. Now, that’s very rare —

AMY GOODMAN: By Chris Christie, when he was a prosecutor in New Jersey.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Right. That’s very rare in the United States for a billionaire to spend time in jail. Among other things, he hired a prostitute and had her photographed in order to — hired a prostitute to have his brother-in-law photographed, and then presented the video to his wife at some family gathering. Jared Kushner, he got into Harvard University because the year he applied, his father gave $2.3 million to Harvard. Everybody agreed he didn’t have the grades, he didn’t have the test scores. These are people who profit — who profit from their parents’ profit. There’s no known knowledge that he possesses about the Middle East.

And incidentally, it’s the same thing with Mohammad bin Salman. His only interest is — has only one interest. And, of course, the interest is to maintain his power. But the Saudi regime is a parasitic regime. Work — literally, in Saudi Arabia, “work” is the four-letter word. If you say that you have a job, that you work, the Saudi ruling class looks at you with contempt. “You work?” And so, the Saudis know — in their now battle with Iran, they know that they couldn’t prevail against Iran on a military level, on a strategic level. You know, Iran is a 5,000-year-old civilization. It’s a very impressive place. And so they’re hoping that the United States and Israel will take their chestnuts out of the fire. So they want Israel and the United States to go to war with Iran. And so they’re willing to do anything. You know, they’ll give away Palestine. They’ll give away this studio. They’ll purchase it and give it away to get the United States and Israel to do their bidding. So, we’re not really talking about a peace plan. We’re talking about handing Israel everything it wants, in exchange for Israel and the United States taking out Iran.

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Should the Palestinians Seek Justice NOW at the International Criminal Court?


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by Dr: Richard Falk

Should the Palestinians Seek Justice NOW at the International Criminal Court?

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is a modified version of an opinion piece published by Middle East Eye on February 20, 2017. It calls particular attention to the punitive treatment of recourse to international law tribunals to address perceived grievances that is meant to discourage Palestinians from seeking relief at the International Criminal Court. On one level this form of lawfare underscores the weakness and vulnerability of Israel when the conflict is shifted from the battlefield to the courtroom. On another level it is meant to deny the Palestinian people, and their representatives, all legitimate amd moderate options by which to pursue their claims and address their grievances. It signals that the ‘enforcers’ of world order repudiate their own accountability with regard to the rule of law, while purporting to hold others to account, for instance, by criminalizing all forms of violent resistance to prolonged and abusive occupation as ‘terrorism.’]

 

Weakening the Two-State Consensus

 There is little doubt that the mid-February Netanyahu/Trump love fest at the White House further dampened already dim Palestinian hopes for a sustainable peace based on a political compromise. The biggest blow was Trump’s casual abandonment of the two-state solution coupled with an endorsement of a one-state outcome provided the parties agree to such an outcome, which as so expressed is a result almost impossible to suppose ever happening in the real world. Israel would never agree to a secular one-state that effectively abandons the Zionist insistence on a Jewish state with deep historical roots and biblical validation. The Palestinians would never agree to live in such a Jewish one-state that essentially abandoned their long struggle to achieve national self-determination, thereby gaining liberation from the last major remnant of the colonial era.

 

With geopolitical bravado suitable for the real estate magnate that he remains, despite the presidential trappings of his formal role, Trump also vaguely promised to negotiate a grand deal for the region that evidently reached beyond the contested territory of Palestine so long locked in conflict, and thus encompassed neighboring countries or possibly the whole region. It is easy to speculate that such murmurings by Trump were not welcomed in either Jordan or Egypt, long favored by rightest Israelis as dumping grounds for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Such added ‘political space’ is attractive from an Israeli perspective, both to ensure that Israel maintains a comfortable Jewish majority if the one-state solution were ever forcibly implemented by Israel. At the same time the prospect of population transfer would allow Israel to achieve a higher degree of racial purity, a feature of the dominant Zionist imaginary long before Israel became internationally recognized as a state.

 

An inflammatory part of this new political environment is the accelerated expansion of the existing network of unlawful Israeli settlements located in occupied Palestine. Although near unanimously condemned in Security Council Resolution 2334 last December, Israel responded by defiantly announcing approval of thousands more settlement units, endorsing plans for an entirely new settlement, and by way of a Knesset initiative provocatively legalized settlement ‘outposts,’ 50 of which are distributed throughout the West Bank in direct violation of even Israeli law. It is possible that the Israeli Supreme Court will heed anticipated judicial challenges to this latest move, and eventually void this Knesset law, but even if this happens, the passage of such a law sends a clear message of iron resolve by the political forces currently steering Israeli policy never to permit the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

 

In these circumstances, it becomes incumbent upon the Palestinian Authority to show the world that it is still alive, and it currently has few ways of doing this. Given these realities it would seem a no brainer for the PA to light up the skies of public awareness of the Palestinian plight by vigorously demanding justice at the International Criminal Court (ICC). After all there is a wide consensus on the global stage that all the settlements, and not just the outposts, are in violation of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These settlements have for decades served as a major obstacle in the search for a satisfactory diplomatic solution of the conflict. Of course, it would be naïve to expect Israel to comply with an adverse judgment of the ICC, or to participate in such a proceeding in ways other than by challenging the competence of the tribunal, but a favorable outcome would still be of great value for the Palestinians. It would cast Israel in an unfavorable light in relation to the UN, international law, and world public opinion, and undoubtedly encourage the further development of the already robust global solidarity movement.

 

Yet, despite these circumstances that makes the ICC seem such an attractive option, a PA decision to take this path is far from obvious. The former Foreign Minister of the PA and member of Fatah’s Central Committee, Nasser al-Kidwa, effectively dismissed the ICC option by calling it ‘complicated’ without any further explanation, leaving the impression that the costs of taking such a step were too high. However, the issue is not yet settled as mixed signals are emanating from Palestinian leadership circles. For instance, the PLO Secretary General, Saeb Erekat, in contrast to Kidwa, minced no words in his insistence that the ICC investigate “the colonial settlement regime.”

 

It seems useful to speculate on why there should be this ambivalence among Palestinian leaders. After all, international law, international public opinion, and even most European governments are all supportive of Palestinian claims with regard to the settlements. Israel remains more defiant than ever, and shows every sign of further expansion, possibly with an eye toward soon unilaterally declaring an end to the conflict, a move that Washington might find temporarily awkward, but in the end, acceptable. At the core of this debate about recourse to the ICC is the tricky question as to whether deference to the muscular vagaries of geopolitics serves Palestinian interests at this time.

 

Recourse to the ICC: Pros and Cons

The argument favoring recourse to the ICC is almost too obvious to put forward. It would back Israel into a corner. The Netanyahu government is certain to react with anger and concrete expressions of hostility to any such move by the PA. Such a reaction would be widely seen as a convincing confirmation of Israel’s vulnerability to any impartial test as to whether its settlement policies meet the minimum requirements of international law. And most importantly for the PA it would demonstrate that despite recent political disappointments the Ramallah leadership was prepared to embark upon a controversial course of action that displayed political courage, including a willingness to endure expected vindictive acts of retaliation. Recourse to the ICC would play well with the Palestinian people, especially those living under occupation. They experience daily tensions with violent settler groups and see no future for themselves absent confrontation with Israel. If the PA chooses such a course, it would help restore support for the flagging claims of the PA to serve as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people at the global level. This is turn could lead finally to durable arrangements of unity as between Hamas and Fatah, which would raise confidence levels that the Palestinians were prepared for this latest, difficult stage of their national movement.

 

The arguments against going to the ICC are somewhat more elusive. There is no doubt that Palestine, recognized by the UN as a state now enjoys the jurisdictional qualifications to participate in ICC proceedings. What is less clear is whether the ICC would be responsive, and able to circumvent technical obstacles, such as finding suitable Israeli defendants. During its 15 years of operation the ICC has been very reluctant to be pro-active except in Africa, and even there it has been recently stung by an intense pushback by African governments and the African Union. The ICC has been reluctant to stir up political opposition in the West, which would certainly occur as soon as the ICC launched a full investigation of Palestinian criminal grievances against Israel.

 

There is also the reverse problem of ICC action that might disappoint the PA. To appear balanced, the ICC would probably extend its investigation to include allegations relating to indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. It could then decide that a strong case of probable criminal responsibility attributable to Hamas existed, while allegations against Israel failed because of the inability to establish criminal intent. Although a setback for the PA, such an outcome at the ICC would be internationally criticized as contrary to reasonable interpretations of international law, and be widely regarded as a reflection of political pressures exerted by Washington.

 

Likely, the PA is most inhibited by the ‘lawfare’ campaign being waged by Israel and the United States. Already during the Obama presidency there was Congressional legislation terminating financial assistance to the PA in the event of any recourse to the ICC. Since Trump these warnings have escalated, including the total suspension of financial aid, the closing of the PLO offices in Washington, and threats to put the PLO and Fatah back on the US list of terrorist organizations. It is evident that the PA is taking these unseemly threats seriously.

 

There are also PA fears that any ICC initiative would induce Israel to move more quickly toward closure with respect to the underlying conflict, annexing most or all of the West Bank. Such a reaction would both be in keeping with Israel’s tendency to respond disproportionately to any formal action directed at the legality of its policies and practices. Israel is particularly sensitive about war crimes charges, and vows extraordinary measures should any of its citizens be so charged. Now that Netanyahu can count on unconditional support in the White House and the US Congress it would not be surprising to see him use the occasion of an ICC initiative to proclaim Israeli sovereignty over the whole of historic Palestine.

 

Conclusion

In light of the above, it seems almost certain that the PA will not act take advantage of the ICC option any time soon. The PA is likely to adopt a posture of neither/nor, that is, neither explicitly ruling out recourse to the ICC, nor activating the option. This reflects the reality that the PA is caught between the rock of US/Israel bullying tactics and the hard place of an increasingly restive Palestinian population, being acutely reminded of its ordeal by the grim realization that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation.

 

The United States posture, although somewhat more belligerently pro-Israel as a result of the Trump presidency, is really nothing new except in style. Even during the Obama presidency the US opposed every attempt by the PA to rely on international law or the UN to advance its national struggle. Instead of welcoming the use of law rather than weapons, the US Government castigated efforts of Palestine to gain membership in the UN System or to seek even symbolic relief for its grievances in international venues. This turn against international law, as well as against the UN, is clearly a signature issue for the Trump presidency, and not just in relation to Palestine, and this is not good news for the world.

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