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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

How the 'Palestinians' could cause the US military to be hauled before the International Criminal Court

Evelyn Gordon explains how admitting the 'Palestinians' to the United Nations as a 'non-member state' could result in US troops being hauled before the International Criminal Court.
But while the threat UN recognition poses to peace talks is clear, the threat to American military personnel may seem less obvious. Though Abbas openly admits to wanting UN recognition primarily so he can file charges against Israel in the ICC, media reports often imply that Israel's main concern is an indictment over the settlements - an issue irrelevant to the U.S. military.
Yet the one issue over which Abbas has actually sought to indict Israel isn't the settlements, but its war with Hamas in Gaza in January 2009. The ICC rejected that request, but only because the PA wasn't a state, and therefore lacked standing to join the court: It explicitly said it could reconsider should the General Assembly recognize "Palestine" as a nonmember state.
The PA's case rests on the infamous Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza and recommended that these findings be submitted to the ICC prosecutor for consideration. Both the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly overwhelmingly endorsed the report (though even its author has since disavowed it).
But there's virtually nothing Israel did in Gaza that the United States and some of its European allies haven't done in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. For instance, the Goldstone Report assailed Israel for having caused civilian casualties, ignoring the difficulties of avoiding such casualties when fighting terrorists who wear no uniforms and deliberately launch attacks from civilian population centers. Thousands of civilians have been killed under similar circumstances in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus if Israel could be indicted for this, so could America.
Or take the houses Israel destroyed due to fear they were booby-trapped: The United States has demolished hundreds of houses in Afghanistan for the same reason.
But an ICC indictment against Israel over Gaza isn't just a precedent that could be used against America. Rather, it's an essential precondition for indicting America.
Like all new institutions, the ICC must expand its reach cautiously to avoid a backlash. And smart institutions accomplish this by beginning with "easy" targets, then using the precedents set in those cases to tackle harder ones.
Israel is unquestionably the West's easiest target: Far from provoking an international backlash, indicting it would win the ICC global applause - including in Europe, where only eight countries voted against the Goldstone Report. But once the court indicts Israel over Gaza, it will have no grounds for refusing to indict the United States or one of its allies for identical actions in Iraq or Afghanistan, or any other country where, say, U.S. drone strikes have killed civilians (such as Pakistan). After all, Israel tries just as hard as they do to avoid civilian casualties, as attested by no less a personage than the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan.
Thus all it would take would be for one such country to join the court (if it hasn't already) and file a complaint. An indictment would then require all 121 existing member states - including many American allies - to arrest any defendants that enter their territory.
The bigger problem is that a reelected Obama is likely to go back to behaving like the 2009 Obama administration, and in 2009, Obama and his crew made a lot of noises about joining the International Criminal Court. Then the court wouldn't even need the 'Palestinians' to indict the US.

What could go wrong?

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