The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations said his government may seek to join the International Criminal Court and more UN agencies if there is no progress in peace talks with the Israelis.
Riyad Mansour told a news conference Wednesday that the 15 international conventions the Palestinians are seeking to join were just a first group, and more could follow depending on Israel’s actions.
In a surprise move, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday resumed a campaign for further international recognition of a state of Palestine, signing applications for the Palestinians to join 15 international treaties and conventions.
The Palestinians had promised to suspend such efforts during nine months of peace negotiations with Israel, which are scheduled to end on April 29, but Mansour said Israel failed to release Palestinian prisoners as promised.
The UN confirmed Wednesday that its special envoy on Mideast peace, Robert Serry, had received requests from Palestinian officials to join the various international conventions and treaties.
The treaties include the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, the convention on the rights of the child, the convention against torture, and the one against corruption. For a full list click here.
Once these applications have been officially received at the UN headquarters, “we will be reviewing them to consider the appropriate next steps,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The requests come as peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis are floundering, with Israel making a new bid to expand settlements in East Jerusalem and the Palestinians taking fresh steps towards seeking recognition of their desired state.
“We hope a way can be found to see the negotiations through,” UN spokesman Haq said, noting that Serry had met Wednesday with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni.
Envoys from the “quartet” — the US, EU, UN, and Russia — also spoke with the relevant parties by telephone, he said.
But Mansour said the requests were “a formality” and that their membership in the treaties would come into effect “30 days after the Secretary-General receives the letter of accession.”
“What we did is legal,” he insisted, saying “it is our right” to join UN treaties and agencies, since the Palestinians obtained the status of an observer state in November 2012.
The Palestinian Authority has also asked Switzerland if it can join the Fourth Geneva Convention from August 1949 and the first additional protocol. And it has asked the Netherlands if it can join the Hague Convention of 1907 on laws and customs governing war.
“Our inclusion in the Geneva convention will be effective immediately because we are under occupation,” Mansour claimed, adding that these applications are just a first wave, with more coming depending on “the interest of the Palestinian people” as well as “the behavior of Israel.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who cancelled plans to fly in for talks with Abbas in Ramallah after the PA leader signed the treaty applications on Tuesday night, telephoned Abbas on Wednesday and was reported to have asked him to “keep the doors of negotiations open.” The US State Department said that Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as to the Palestinian leader on Wednesday morning.
Kerry’s special envoy Martin Indyk, meanwhile, convened emergency talks Wednesday night between Livni and Erekat.
Livni termed Abbas’s applications to join the 15 treaties and conventions, “a breach of [his] commitment” not to apply to UN bodies while the negotiations were continuing. “It harms Palestinian interests,” she said of the move. “If they want a state, they must understand it must pass through the negotiating room.”
Israeli officials were quoted earlier Wednesday saying Abbas had “torpedoed” a nascent, complex, three-way deal under which Israel would have freed a final batch of 26-30 long-term Palestinian terror convicts and also released 400 more Palestinian security prisoners not guilty of violent crimes, peace talks would have extended beyond the current April 29 deadline, and the US would have released American-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
Still, Livni said she believed talks would continue despite the crisis. “We repeat and pledge that we will continue to fight for peace and stand like a fortified wall against the extremists, in the government as well, who are attempting to pass extreme legislation,” she said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin lambasted Livni for meeting with Erekat, saying it was “a disgrace to the state of Israel.”
“The time has come to stop being the go-to sucker of the Middle East,” he said. “I call on the prime minister and Minister Livni to end the entire negotiation process so long as Abbas doesn’t withdraw his request from the United Nations, and unilaterally implement the many measures Israel has in order to convince the Palestinian leadership that it doesn’t pay for them to fight us in the international arena.”
State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf said that she was not aware of the plans for Livni and Erekat to meet, and refused to implicate Abbas’s move as the sole factor in Kerry’s decision to cancel his Wednesday meeting.
Harf had told reporters Tuesday that Kerry would still travel to the region, but shortly after she concluded her press briefing, overseas members of Kerry’s team confirmed that the trip had been canceled. Harf would not answer questions Wednesday as to whether the State Department had been warned before Abbas made his Tuesday treaties and conventions move.
“Over the last 24 hours there have been unhelpful actions taken on both sides,” Harf said, described a growing “sense over the last 36 hours that we didn’t think it was a conducive environment for the secretary to travel there right now.”
Similarly, Harf would not detail which Israeli actions the State Department defined as so “unhelpful” as to justify a cancellation of Kerry’s trip. Although the Palestinians had complained in recent days that Israel did not release prisoners last weekend as agreed, Kerry’s Tuesday morning meeting with Netanyahu went ahead as planned even after the proposed release date had passed.
Harf said that the coming days represented a critical stage for the talks. “This is one of the points in which both sides must make tough choices,” Harf warned, adding that both sides “have made courageous decisions in the past” but that “we can’t make the tough decisions for them, they need to do it for themselves.”
Acknowledging that “it’s an easy story to write that making Middle East peace is hard,” Harf also emphasized that “talks are not at a dead end. There is still a chance to move the process forward.” During the past eight months, the negotiations had succeeded in “narrowing gaps” between the parties, she argued, but would not specify on which topics.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, meanwhile, said he did not know “if this is a real crisis or an imagined one” but that “the ball is in the Palestinians’ court.” Should the Palestinians choose not to resume negotiations, Israel need not run after them with conciliatory gestures, he said. “If you don’t want negotiations, that’s your decision,” he said.
Liberman also said he would not vote for any deal that included freeing Israeli-Arab prisoners.
Netanyahu issued no immediate official response to Abbas’s move. But unnamed officials in Jerusalem were quoted by Channel 2 news saying Abbas’s application to join the 15 international treaties and conventions represented a “major breach” of his understandings with Israel and the US over peace negotiations, and that it indicated that there was now “almost no chance” of a Pollard-for-prisoners deal enabling the continuation of peace talks.
Netanyahu was reported by Channel 2 to have mustered a cabinet majority in the course of Tuesday for a Pollard-for-prisoners deal, and to have been “shocked” to see the televised ceremony in which Abbas signed off on the various letters of accession.
Channel 2’s diplomatic correspondent Udi Segal said that Kerry, who claimed on Tuesday that Abbas had not breached peace understandings because he had not sought to join UN-related agencies, seemed to be trying to “whitewash” the PA president’s move. While Kerry claimed on Tuesday that “None of the agencies that President Abbas signed tonight involve the UN,” most of the treaties and conventions are in fact related to UN agencies.
Israeli Middle East analyst Ehud Ya’ari noted that the Palestinians had “heavier” diplomatic weapons in their armory that they had not yet chosen to use. He described Abbas’s move as “muscle-flexing” in response to Israel’s failure to release the fourth and final group of Palestinian terror convicts who had been set to go free last weekend. Israeli officials had balked at a PA demand for several Israeli-Arabs to be included in that group, and also insisted that Abbas first commit to extending peace talks past April — a demand Abbas refused.