The past week has been rather, well, eventful, for both Israel and Palestinian officials. The UN Security Council rejected the Palestinian's statehood bid six days ago, after which the Palestinians decided to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), threatening to bring Israel to court on charges of war crimes. The latest development in the conflict, however, involved the U.S., as Israel will ask Congress to halt aid to Palestinians — or more specifically, to the Palestinian Authority (PA), the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people.
A recently-passed legislation in the U.S. stated that should the Palestinians initiate action against Israel in the ICC, the State Department would be required to stop sending aid to the PA. A senior Israeli official said that Jerusalem would contact pro-Israeli lawmakers in Capitol Hill to make sure the legislation — one that President Obama cannot waive — is enforced. Israel isn't expected to face much resistance from a Congress dominated by the GOP, many members of which lean toward the pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian stance, reported Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper.
If passed, the U.S. would suspend economic aid to the PA, which amounts to some $400 million annually, and would be a second blow to the PA's financial dependence, following Israel's decision to freeze about $127 million in tax revenues to the Palestinians.
Earlier that Sunday, Nissim Ben Sheetrit, Foreign Ministry Director-General, told attendees at a conference held in Jerusalem for Israel’s European envoys that the country's response to the Palestinian attempt at joining the ICC would be considerably harsher and more comprehensive than the mere freezing the PA’s tax payments. Ben Sheetrit said:
Israel is about to switch from defense to attack mode.
However, politics being a treacherous game and all that — especially when it involves Israel and Palestine — it would be careless to say that Congress would bow to Israeli pressure. Already, the Obama administration has rebuked Israel over freezing the PA's tax revenues. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki chastized Israel, saying the move would raise tensions:
We call on both sides to avoid action that raises tensions and makes it difficult to return to direct negotiations. Obviously this action would qualify in that category.
But Psaki also said criticized the Palestinians for attempting ICC membership:
[The U.S. is] deeply troubled by the Palestinian action. [Joining the ICC is] entirely counterproductive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state.
The U.S. has long been opposed to the Palestinians achieving a statehood and acquiring an end to the Israeli occupation through international means, opting instead for direct negotiations between both parties — negotiations which, numerous as they are, have clearly failed to solve the conflict. The U.S. was mostly responsibly for the UN Security Council rejecting the Palestinian statehood bid last week, as it voted against the measure, though even if the draft resolution had garnered the minimum nine votes required to pass, the U.S., as a permanent member on the Security Council, would have vetoed it.