Lawyers, Lobbyists Battle In Diplomatic Intifada

The next stage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the diplomatic intifada.  Both sides are mobilizing their lawyers and lobbyists to do battle on several fronts, but primarily in The Hague and in Washington, D.C.

Since neither side has shown much interest in sitting down at the peace table for serious negotiations, they've opted for the battle of the briefcases.

Palestinians have applied to join the International Criminal Court so they can file war crimes charges against Israel.  The Obama administration has challenged that application on the grounds that Palestine is not a real state and thus ineligible.

Meanwhile, the Netanyahu government has ordered its diplomats and called on AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbyists to press the Congress to smack down the Palestinian Authority by cutting US aid and imposing other sanctions.

Members of Congress haven't bothered waiting to be asked; they're already introducing bills, making speeches and issuing press releases as they try to out-Israel each other for their own political advantage.

Republicans, with majorities in the House and Senate, will try to demonstrate they are more pro-Israel than Democrats.  They are lining up to show not only how tough they can get on the Palestinians but also by pointing to a new Gallup Poll that shows a small rise in the number of Jews identifying themselves as Republicans. 

What they don't bother to mention is that Democrats still have a better than two-to-one advantage and that the bulk of those Republican Jews tend to be male, more religious and less educated than their Democratic brethren. The Republican approach to Jewish voters is primarily single-issue because of its inability to bridge the wide gaps on domestic and social issues between its hard conservative base and liberal Jewish voters.

The Omnibus federal spending bill passed last month contains a provision ordering a cutoff of the PA's $400 million in annual aid if it "initiates" an investigation or Israel in the ICC, and the president has no authority to block the move.  But some lawmakers aren't waiting; one has introduced demanding the membership application itself is sufficient to halt the aid.

The Netanyahu government quickly froze $127 million in tax transfers owed to the PA, an act which a top Palestinian official called "a war crime" and Israeli president Reuven Rivlin and opposition leaders as well as the State Department criticized as harming Israel's own interests.

The PA's decision to go to the ICC, according to Prof. Eugene Kontorovich of Northwestern University, an expert on international law, violates two specific Palestinian commitments from the Oslo Accords: " to not seek a final status determination outside of negotiations, and giving Israeli exclusive jurisdiction over Israeli nationals in the territories. The Oslo Accords were an internationally-guaranteed agreement, so at best the ICC effort is born in illegality."

Amb. Dennis Ross, the former US Mideast peace envoy, aptly pointed out that all the "Palestinian charges and Israeli countercharges [will] not alter the reality on the ground."  Palestinians prefer an imposed solution that will free them from having to make any concessions and compromises, he said, suggesting, "their approach is neither about two states nor peace."

It is unclear why Abbas has chosen to bolster the Israeli hardliners who reject Palestinian statehood and undermine the doves as the country heads to elections just 10 weeks away.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.