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The recent narrow defeat of a resolution in the United Nations Security Council on Palestinian statehood should be read in the context of resistance from the United States and Israel to the territory’s bid for UN membership. In 2012, Washington and Tel Aviv opposed a landmark UN General Assembly vote by 138 countries to upgrade Palestine’s status from Observer to Non-Member Observer State in the world body. Introduced by Jordan, the resolution last week called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank by 2017 and the creation of a capital in East Jerusalem — territories captured by Israel besides Gaza Strip in the so-called Six-Day War in 1967. Against the backdrop of the failure of peace talks, the Palestinian Authority (PA) under President Mahmoud Abbas has pinned its hopes for any meaningful progress on taking recourse to international legal instruments. Accordingly, Mr. Abbas has moved swiftly to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) once the UNSC resolution was defeated in December. Earlier in the month, Palestine was invited as an observer at the annual meeting of states that have joined the ICC.
The Palestinians expect the step would eventually lead to the trial of certain Israeli leaders for war crimes in The Hague court. But a determination has yet to be made on whether its jurisdiction would commence from 2012, when the status of Palestine was revised at the UN, or after its accession to the Rome treaty is completed. It is also uncertain whether the nature of the violence during the conflict would qualify for prosecution by the ICC. What is clear, however, is that the activities of both the PA and the Islamic militant group Hamas would also come under scrutiny should the court deem it fit to investigate Israel. But paradoxically, the U.S. and Israel continue to regard any attempt by the PA to gain international recognition as confrontational, insisting that direct negotiations are the only possible avenue to find a lasting solution. Both have threatened retaliation in the form of severe economic sanctions against Palestine and travel restrictions on their leaders. Such a stance is unhelpful considering the PA is the main moderate voice wedded to a two-state solution, unlike Hamas that refuses to recognise the state of Israel. But international opinion in support of Palestinian self-determination is growing, as is evident from the overwhelming backing accorded to the European Parliament resolution. The Palestinian bid to join the ICC is expected to strengthen Israel’s hardliners in the elections in March. The larger interests of peace in the Middle East warrant moderation.

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