RAMALLAH — A senior adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has told the Media Line in an exclusive interview that the PA and Fatah have no ability to intervene in the Gaza crisis because the Gaza Strip is ruled exclusively by Hamas despite the unity agreement.
Responding to the question of whether Abbas is able to get the Islamist Hamas movement to stop firing rockets into Israel, Ambassador Majdi Al-Khaldi, diplomatic adviser to the president, told the Media Line that, “Hamas is an opposition organization led by its own decisions. It is very obvious we are not controlling Gaza. The decisions of Hamas are taken by their own people.”
Previously, in defending against accusations that a unity government of which Hamas is a part will be unacceptable to western donor nations, Abbas replied that the government will follow his direction.
The matter is significant in light of the escalating violence resulting from Hamas firing hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory and the Israeli army pursuing a relentless aerial bombing campaign against Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets throughout the Gaza Strip. Palestinian medical sources on Thursday placed the number of dead from Israeli air raids at more than 160 with hundreds of others wounded, including two entire families that perished during air strikes.
The two-year truce between Israel and Hamas was broken with the kidnapping of three Israeli teens on June 12 and the discovery of their bodies almost three weeks later. Israeli officials insist that Hamas operatives carried out the kidnap/murders, but the Islamist group has not admitted responsibility. While the Israeli military was carrying out massive day-and-night search missions that included the arrest of scores of Palestinians, mostly Hamas members, the frequency of rockets being fired into Israeli territory multiplied precipitously. Since last week, when the army launched “Operation Protective Edge,” around-the-clock sorties have been flown by the air force while 40,000 reservists were called up for duty and await deployment alongside the Israel-Gaza border.
“We are against all types of violence, whether from Israel or from Hamas or from whomever,” al-Khaldi said.
Abbas reached out to the international community last week for help in restoring calm. Egypt had mediated the 2012 cease fire, and Abbas asked Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi for his assistance. He also asked for the United Nations to intervene, and a Security Council meeting on the Gaza situation took place last week in New York.
Al-Khaldi says it’s very important for the Security Council to take responsibility. Anticipating the American response to a resolution condemning Israel, al-Khaldi said, “The issue is not about veto or no veto. The issue is hundreds of victims: innocent people in Palestine who were killed.” More recently, Abbas has said he would go to the International Criminal Court and charge Israel with genocide.
Last April, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) joined 15 UN international treaties and conventions after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace mission failed. When the talks broke down, Abbas took the decision to join such bodies as The Hague Convention and the Fourth Geneva Convention, which could result in Israel being charged with war crimes. But Israeli officials are of the firm belief that it’s the Palestinians who stand to lose if Abbas seeks redress from the ICC.
Einat Wilf, a former Israeli legislator and presently senior fellow with The Washington Institute for Near Eastern Affairs, told the Media Line that “the whole issue of going to the ICC is a double edge sword; and right now there is even a question of whether Palestine can submit [cases] to the ICC.”
Wilf explained that if “Palestine is accepted as a legitimate participant, then they also become recipients on the other side. What will happen is that Palestine will become responsible for Hamas and the unity government will make it more difficult. In going to the ICC, the Palestinians will have to claim territorial ownership, which means they need to at the very least claim Gaza and the West bank. I see legal opinions from Palestinians warning against precisely that.”
If that happens, according to Wilf, “Palestinians will not be able to abdicate legal responsibility, especially with Hamas in the unity government…The outcome [could be] that over time Israel may be exonerated and Palestinians may find themselves implicated.”
There are Palestinians who agree that it would not be easy for Abbas to prevail in the International Criminal Court, but they also believe the court would not exonerate Israel for “occupying Palestinian land.” According to al-Khaldi, “It’s not the right moment now to do this step.” Yet, he warned Israel that “if it doesn’t want the Palestinians to go to the ICC, they have to stop their crimes.”
Human Rights attorney and former legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team Diana Buttu disagrees, saying Israel continues to act above international law and behaves as a “rogue state.”
Political analyst Ghassan Khatib says Abbas took the decision to go to the ICC because he is being pushed into a corner along with Hamas. “He has very few cards and one of them is the international arena. He needs to do something like this,” he told the Media Line. Like Buttu, he disagrees with Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor who says that Israel is scrupulous in its observance of the laws of warfare and views going to the ICC as a win-win situation for the Palestinians.
“If there will be a situation which each side will be held accountable, I think the Palestinians will be happy to be in such situations,” said Khatib.
Al-Khaldi says he thinks the use of extra force by Israel is not necessary and that the “way forward is to return back to the negotiations and to the political track. The two-state solution is the best for both and we are losing this opportunity now offered by the American administration,” he said.
Palmor agrees that returning to the table is the “one and only political objective.” But he says the immediate need for his country is “to protect hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of civilians from the missiles falling down on their heads, and if anyone can suggest means other than military to make the rockets stop then, let them say so. But for the moment no one has offered any other alternative to stopping Hamas fire.”