Israel’s new government is quickly approaching its first political test, following the Palestinian Authority-initiated decision of the UN General Assembly on Dec. 30, 2022, to ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague for a legal opinion on the legality of the “Israeli occupation” in Judea and Samaria, aka the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the UNGA resolution, noting that “the Jewish people is not an occupier on its own land and is not an occupier of its eternal capital of Jerusalem.” The resolution is another in a series “of several hundred distorted decisions that have been made in the UN General Assembly over the years,” he added.
The question is whether the new government, at the very beginning of its term, will show political determination or back down, fearing the American administration’s reaction.
This will also be a test of the coalition agreements between the Likud and the Religious Zionist Party, which state that “if the P.A. takes steps against Israel in The Hague, the government will formulate policies and measures against the P.A. and against its actions.”
The P.A. is very satisfied with the resolution. Hussein al-Sheikh, Secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee, defined it as a “victory” for the PLO; P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas planned the move a year ago, and was able to lead it successfully during the Lapid government.
The Palestinians are on high alert, and are threatening to stop security coordination with Israel if Israel halts the monthly transfer of tax money to the P.A.
Political officials in Jerusalem say that Israel intends to contact the 25 countries that opposed the decision in the UNGA and ask them to submit an opinion opposing the tribunal in The Hague, in the hope that the ICJ will take their position into consideration.
It is not yet clear whether the Netanyahu government will decide to cooperate with The Hague tribunal and convince it to accept Israel’s position, or to boycott it as it has in relation to the International Criminal Court. This is a long process that will take one to two years and does not bind Israel.
Israel has an arsenal of sanctions that it can take against the P.A. following the move it initiated in the United Nations, such as stopping the transfer of tax money that Israel collects for the P.A., canceling the VIP travel certificates of P.A. officials, preventing workers from the West Bank from entering Israel, a re-examination of the employment in Israel of teachers trained in the Palestinian Authority, and more.
The decision in the General Assembly is a political blow to Israel, even though following the preliminary vote on the issue a month earlier Israel managed to mobilize more countries to oppose the resolution.
Political officials in Jerusalem estimate that the new government does not intend to impose sanctions on the P.A., and believe it will operate only in the international and legal arenas. Apparently, the government fears he reaction of the United States and the European Union and does not want to be portrayed at the very beginning of its journey as initiating a head-on collision with the P.A.
If this is indeed the final decision, then it is a mistake. The P.A. will interpret this as weakness and increase the pressure on Israel in the international arena.
In recent months, P.A. chairman Abbas has returned to his old strategy of internationalizing the conflict with Israel by appealing to U.N. institutions and the ICJ to make decisions against Israel. But he also knows that this is a difficult struggle, and he is now very afraid that Prime Minister Netanyahu will try to isolate him even more in the political arena by progressing toward a new normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Sunni world.
In light of these developments, Abbas drew up a “road map” for action against the Netanyahu government, which he recently presented to the PLO Revolutionary Council. The “road map” does not include a new armed intifada.
The plan presented by the P.A. chairman was designed to deal with the new Netanyahu government in an attempt to consolidate a united Arab position and mobilize international support for the Palestinian struggle.
The Netanyahu government cannot avoid responding to the Palestinian move at the United Nations. It must, at the very least, take symbolic action to warn the Palestinian Authority against similar political moves in the future. Abbas claims that he has no other options left and he intends to focus on a political struggle against the new Israeli government.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.