News from February 10 to February 16
Israeli election update, ICC case update, UN West Bank blacklist
|Feb 17, 2020|
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Does Israel have a government yet? Nope.
What’s new? As the elections grow closer, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz continue to compete for the center-right vote. To contextualize why that’s significant, let’s review what happened in the September elections.
Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz had the seats necessary (61) to form a coalition because Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu refused to sit in a coalition with either party. He didn’t like Netanyahu’s embrace of religious parties and Gantz’s lukewarm acceptance of the Israeli-Arab parties. The only viable coalition for Netanyahu without the religious parties would have been to form a coalition with Blue and White. Similarly, the only viable coalition for Gantz without the Israeli-Arab parties would have been with Netanyahu’s Likud.
Here’s where it gets tricky. As you may recall, the 61 votes necessary to form a government do not have to come from parties sitting in the coalition. They can also come from parties who support the particular MK but might have qualms about actually serving in the government. This is particularly relevant for the Israeli-Arab parties. Many of their voters have serious issues with the Israeli government and they would have a big problem with their leaders participating in a governing coalition. Thus, the Israeli-Arab parties said that they would support Gantz’s bid for Prime Minister, but they would not sit in his coalition.
Benny Gantz. Bloomberg via Amir Levy/Getty Images
Alright, so what happened this week? In this election cycle, Netanyahu has been attacking Gantz for his outreach to the Israeli-Arab parties following the September elections. Netanyahu’s attacks on Gantz could cost Gantz some right-wing votes from people who don’t want to see Israeli-Arab parties in the governing coalition. Gantz parried these attacks by saying this week that he would form a government with a “Jewish majority.”
Although the support of Israeli-Arab parties is critical for Gantz’s Prime Minister bid, securing the plurality of the votes is more important at this stage of the election. In most cases (one notable exception was the last election), the MK whose party has the most seats becomes gets the first chance to form a coalition. Center or center-right votes are crucial for both Netanyahu and Gantz, so they will continue to spar over Gantz’s willingness to work with the Israeli-Arab parties. The big question here is whether or not the Israeli-Arab parties will even support Gantz if he receives a mandate to form a government. As Gantz is forced to distance himself from the Israeli-Arab parties, he risks alienating a vital partner in his effort to form a government.
What’s new? As you may recall, in December, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that she was recommending a full investigation of Israeli war crimes. Although she believes she has the evidence necessary to open to the case, she is seeking a legal opinion from the ICC’s pre-trial chamber on whether or not the ICC has jurisdiction over the Palestinian Territories. At its core, the pre-trial case is about whether or not Palestine is a state under international law. By issuing a ruling related to the Palestinian Territories, the ICC would effectively be recognizing Palestine as a state.
This week, six countries filed amicus curiae briefs in support of Israel. If you don’t know what an amicus curiae brief is, they are essentially supplemental legal arguments that are offered by people, organizations, or states that are not involved in the case. In this case, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Brazil, and Uganda have filed briefs in favor of the Israeli position. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which represents 57 Muslim states, presented a brief supporting the Palestinian argument. These briefs are just requests to introduce outside legal arguments which will be presented in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for those.
What happened? On Wednesday, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report naming 112 companies that have ties to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In 2016, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334 (the United States abstained), which both defined Israeli settlement activity as a violation of international law and called for countries to delineate between Israel and territory it has occupied since 1967. The OHCHR then passed resolution 31/36 which called for the office to publish a list of companies operating in West Bank settlements. Fearing that a list of companies doing business in the West Bank would fuel boycott efforts, Israel has been trying to block or delay the release of the list for years. After several delays, the OHCHR released its list this week. Notable companies on the list include Airbnb, General Mills, Motorolla, TripAdvisor, and Expedia.
What do people think about this? To some, this is another case of the UN’s myopic focus on Israel. Though there are many other occupations around the world (Northern Cyprus, Crimea, Western Sahara), no other countries have been targeted with a “blacklisting” of companies operating in occupied territory. For more on this and other related arguments, I highly recommend you check out UN Watch’s page on the list. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said that “[publishing] this list of companies and entities operating in the settlements is a victory for international law and diplomatic efforts.” In Israel, politicians all over the political spectrum denounced the decision. Netanyahu said, “Whoever boycotts us will be boycotted. The UN Human Rights Council is a biased body that is devoid of influence,” while the leader of the Labor party, Amir Peretz, stated, “We oppose any sort of boycott, and the UN’s decision is redundant and outrageous.” Israeli officials also said that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, refused to meet with them to talk about the list.
Further reading: https://www.algemeiner.com/2020/02/14/us-lawmakers-condemn-un-blacklist-of-companies-with-ties-to-israeli-settlements/ (Algemeiner)
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