The Palestinian ICC Drama Show

Palestinian membership in the ICC is bad for Israel, the United States, and those who profess to want a Palestinian state.

With the “State of Palestine” officially becoming a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on April 1, the murky peace process with Israel just became cloudier. While the move clearly appears damaging to Israel, it is also bad for the United States, the ICC, and those who profess to want a Palestinian state.

At its core, the Palestinians’ plan is to gain statehood by pursuing their version of international justice and legitimacy, without negotiating with Israel. This decision represents an evolution in Palestinian strategy. They’ve learned from their negotiating experience at Camp David in 2000 that it is better not to show up, than to show up, reject offers out of hand, and take the blame for the collapse of the peace process.

At first glance, the stars appear aligned in favor of such a dramatic move. President Obama has long been at odds with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, and that chasm has only widened since the latter’s re-election. The president chose that opportunity to manufacture a new crisis in the U.S.-Israel relationship, calling for a reassessment of United States support at the United Nations. With Netanyahu’s staunch opposition to an American-led deal with Iran that the prime minister declared “would threaten the survival of Israel,” the bond that kept the bilateral relationship strong in previous decades is guaranteed to further fray in the coming months at a political level.

By way of contrast, Mr. Obama told Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas that he will never have an American administration as committed to creating a Palestinian state as his. With the president indicating he may also move to internationalize the conflict by either drafting or supporting a new UN Security Council resolution regarding statehood, the timing appears ripe to make a big international Palestinian splash.

This fits neatly with Abbas’ plan to circumvent direct negotiations with the Israelis altogether. After all, the Palestinian national movement has already proven unwilling to accept or make a counterproposal to the previous three Israeli offers to end the conflict in 2000, 2008, and 2014. By dragging Israel before the ICC, they hope to focus attention on their cause while publicly vilifying, isolating, and prosecuting Israel for war crimes. With an accusing spotlight on Israel, they can avoid the need to compromise.

It is questionable whether or not Palestinian leaders truly believe their plan will result in their statehood. But with the peace process in a holding pattern, it doesn’t matter right now. In the meantime, the “diplomatic intifada”—as one senior official in the Palestinian Liberation Organization put it—will preserve their demands should they decide to negotiate with Israel at some future point. Meanwhile, they can pocket any concessions the United States and international community extract from Israel. In this new reality, the longer the Palestinians avoid negotiating an end to the conflict, the more it raises the cost to Israel. And the best part, from their perspective, is that it requires nothing of them.

It is not surprising, then, that these moves are eliciting the ire of many on Capitol Hill. Senator Lindsey Graham described the move as “incredibly offensive” and representing “a bastardizing of the role of the ICC.” Here’s why he’s right: