There is a convenient falsehood every time a ceasefire agreement occurs and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict temporarily vanishes from the media. It is the assumption that the conflict has come to a halt and a diplomatic solution brokered by the United States is soon to follow. The truth is that the conflict does not stop, because the status quo does not allow it to stop. Every few years tensions will swell so large that major conflict will erupt, and these escalations often warrant vast media coverage, but make no mistake, the conflict is always alive.
This is what makes Palestine’s decision to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) so intriguing; it represents a new development in the unchanging script between Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestine is expected to become a member of the ICC in April, and while this has many Palestinians feeling elated, the Israeli government is infuriated. The reason behind this is obvious: Israel benefits much more from the status quo that is being challenged. Israel‘s society has been able to thrive while successfully annexing land in the West Bank with new settlements, and while maintaining its de facto military occupation of Gaza. Paradoxically, however, while society in Israel might be thriving, tensions in the conflict are being heightened. So it comes as no surprise that Palestinians are the ones willing to challenge the status quo. It is possible, though, that both sides could benefit from this new development. Let me explain why.
The ICC will be granted jurisdiction over crimes committed within the loosely defined Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank (a potential problem). While many Palestinians hope this means Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be immediately prosecuted for crimes against humanity, that is not exactly how this will work. Palestinians cannot force the ICC to take on any cases, but they can refer certain situations to the ICC prosecutor for investigation.
Significantly, the ICC would not just be investigating crimes allegedly committed by Israel, but by Palestine as well, which is what makes this development so interesting.
I believe that three things realistically need to happen for this conflict to end: Israeli settlements in the West Bank need to stop, Israel’s military occupation of Gaza needs to end, and the Hamas government in Gaza needs to go (under circumstances that won’t result in another extremist group replacing it). These are all matters that could potentially be addressed by the ICC when investigating crimes committed by both sides.
The coercive construction of settlements in the West Bank and the military occupation in Gaza provide a fertile environment for the proliferation of violent resistance from individuals such as those we see involved with Hamas. Hamas, in return, hinders any real chance at peace with their misguided rhetoric and violent actions against Israel. One cannot really blame Israel for refusing to negotiate with Hamas when Hamas’s charter calls for the destruction of Israel.
Nevertheless, while many Palestinians in Gaza might be opposed to using violence, Israel’s occupation of their homeland leaves them in a disturbing predicament. Not only are they are faced with the daunting might of Israel, but also see strong incentives to join violent resistance movements like Hamas. Palestinians in Gaza live in an oppressed land, and they simply lack alternative paths to prosperity and visions of hope. With such limited options and these commonly shared grievances, it is hardly surprising that many end up joining groups like Hamas. Understanding this dynamic is crucial, because it must be addressed if any attempt at a resolution is to stand any chance of success.
Innocent Palestinians should not be forced to grow up in an oppressed society that does not allow them to achieve a life of dignity, nor should innocent Israelis have to live with the fear that death can come arbitrarily in the form of a suicide bomb or rocket attack. It is ultimately the innocent on all sides that bear the brunt of this senseless conflict
The odds of the ICC bringing about a solution to this conflict anytime soon are quite slim, especially with the complexities surrounding the situation and the ICC’s lack of an actual enforcement mechanism, but it is still an interesting development. The current status quo is simply exacerbating tensions and leading to entrenched positions on both sides of the conflict. Whether Palestine joining the ICC is the correct answer or not, challenging the status quo is a necessary first step for peace.
Image courtesy of Michael.Loadenthal