JERUSALEM — On January 6, Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed the Rome Statute, signaling the beginning of the process to join the International Criminal Court. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Palestine would join the court on April 1; a statement that caused a flurry of activity in Israel and the United States.
Immediately following the signature of the Rome Statute, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze the transfer of half a billion shekels ($127 million) in Palestinian tax revenues collected by Israel. The U.S. State Department and Israeli President Reuven Rivilin have criticized the freeze.
The Israel-based newspaper Haaretz reported that Jerusalem would be contacting pro-Israel members of Congress to ensure the enactment of a part of U.S. law stipulating the end of aid to Palestine from the United States if the PA joins the ICC.
The ICC is an “independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern.” Israel and the United States have both signed but not ratified the Rome Statute, meaning they are not legally obliged to abide by the rulings of the Court.
Each year, the United States gives the Palestine Authority around $400 million in aid. This money is split between USAID projects and direct budgetary assistance to the PA. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are some of the largest recipients of aid in the world.
The Obama administration reported that it is reviewing its annual aid package to Palestine because of the ICC decision. The State Department called Palestine’s move to join the ICC an “escalatory step” and “counterproductive.”
One of the first congressional reactions was Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who said ‘Congress must do everything in its power to block the funds to the PA and to any UN entity that recognizes a non-existent state of Palestine.” Ros-Lehtinen has historically been a strong supporter of Israel.
Senator Rand Paul took action, introducing a bill on January 7 that would halt U.S. aid to Palestine until it stops its pursuance of war-crime charges against Israel. Paul has made clear in the past that he supports the end of all foreign aid from the United States.
U.S. aid to Palestine has always been carefully monitored to ensure it was not directed towards the terrorist-designated group Hamas, which controlled the Gaza Strip until 2014. The aid has three purposes: to prevent terrorism against Israel from Hamas, to foster the two-state solution and to meet humanitarian need.
In June 2014, Prime Minister Abbas swore in a new consolidated government that merged the governance of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank under the Palestine Authority. Although no Hamas officials retained their positions, the new government worried many and complicated the conditions the U.S. put on Palestinian aid. Even so, the U.S. continued its policy of annual aid to Palestine.
It remains to be seen if the U.S. will actually halt aid to Palestine due to its bid to join the ICC, or the exact effects of the freeze on the PA government and the people it governs.
– Caitlin Huber
Sources: Federation of American Scientists, International Criminal Court, U.S. Foreign Policy, Politico, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Times of Israel, i24 News, Huffington Post, The Jerusalem Post, New York Times
Photo: Atheist Analysis