Palestinian Authority Now Calls Israeli Housing Plans “War Crimes” and Threatens Move at International Criminal Court

FILE- In this Nov. 2, 2011 file photo, a construction worker works at a site of a new housing unit in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. Israel approved the construction of 3,000 homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Credit: AP

During last month’s bombardment of southern Israel, when Hamas and other Gaza terror groups launched 1,506 rockets at Israeli civilians in just one week, the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas aimed all its criticism at Israel’s military response.

Now, Abbas and his colleagues are accusing the Israeli government of “war crimes” over its decision Friday to approve 3,000 new housing units in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and are even threatening to take Israel to the International Criminal Court to pursue official war crimes charges.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government approved the housing plan in response to the Palestinians’ successful bid at the United Nations General Assembly last week to upgrade their status to non-member state. Israeli officials won’t say when – or even if – the construction will begin, but that didn’t stop Palestinian officials from writing a harshly-worded letter to the UN Security Council warning that Israel plans to commit further “war crimes” by expanding Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians consider part of their future state.

According to Reuters, the letter accused Israel of behaving “in a rogue, hostile and arrogant manner, contravening all principles and rules of international law and reacting with contempt to the will of the international community.”

Here are some of the other strident words Palestinian officials are using to describe the decision to build homes for Israelis:

*On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority leadership called the housing project: the “most dangerous, and the most racist” Israeli plan that should not be allowed to be implemented, according to the International Middle East Media Center.

*PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi also called it a “war crime” and an “act of aggression against the State of Palestine.”

*She also said: “This unilateral and systematic policy is in the context of the Israeli government’s scheme to steal the lands of the State of Palestine and the world must hold Israel accountable for its aggression against the lands of the occupied State of Palestine.”

*Senior aide to President Abbas, Nabil Shaath, said: “by continuing these war crimes of settlement activities on our lands and stealing our money, Israel is pushing and forcing us to go to the ICC [International Criminal Court].”

Shaath was referring to Israel’s punitive measure after last week’s UN vote to withhold $100 million in tax revenues this month to the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli finance minister says he plans to use the money to pay off part of the $180 million in Palestinian debt to Israel’s electric company.

During the weeks leading up to the UN vote, Western countries had tried to persuade the Palestinian Authority to make a commitment it would not lodge complaints against Israel at the ICC. Reuters reports:

After winning the UN status upgrade, the Palestinians can now access the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which prosecutes people for genocide, war crimes and other major human rights violations and where it could complain about Israel.

The Palestinians have said they will not rush to sign up to the International Criminal Court, but have warned that seeking action against Israel in the court would remain an option if Israel continued to build illegal settlements.

It’s unclear if Palestinian UN Observer Riyad Mansour was hinting at the ICC option in his letter to the UN when he wrote: “A clear message must be sent to Israel that all of its illegal policies must be ceased or that it will be held accountable and will have to bear the consequences if its violations and obstruction of peace efforts.”

Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev defended the government decision, saying “from our perspective, Israel is responding in a very measured way to a series of Palestinian provocations.”

President Abbas said before the housing decision was announced that, “The Fourth Geneva Convention now applies to the State of Palestine within the 1967 borders.” He added, “The lands of the State of Palestine are occupied and it is forbidden to make any demographic changes in them. It is forbidden to transfer the citizens of another country to our state. The presence of Israeli settlers is in violation of international law.”

By way of comparison, the Hamas bombardment of Israeli civilians violated basic tenets of the Geneva Conventions. The pro-Israel blog Elder of Ziyon last month detailed which provisions of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions Hamas violated, including the prohibition against targeting civilians and using civilians as human shields:

Article 51:

2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited. […]

7. The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations.

Unlike in the case of the “war crime” of building Israeli homes, for the Hamas violations, the Palestinian Authority did not threaten to lodge complaints at the ICC.