The new Netanyahu government is quickly entering its first political test following the decision of the UN General Assembly on Dec. 30, 2022, to accept the request of the Palestinian Authority and ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague for a legal opinion on the legality of the “Israeli occupation” in the West Bank.
Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the decision of the General Assembly and said that “the Jewish people is not an occupier on its own land and is not an occupier of its eternal capital of Jerusalem” and that “the decision is part of several hundred distorted decisions that have been made in the UN General Assembly over the years”.
The question is whether the new government will show political determination at the very beginning of its journey or fear the reaction of the American administration.
This will also be a test of the coalition agreements between the Likud and the Religious Zionist Party, which state that “if the PA takes steps against Israel in The Hague, the government will formulate policies and measures against the PA and against its actions.”
The PA is very satisfied with the decision in the UN General Assembly. Hussein al-Sheikh, Secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee, defined the decision as a “victory” for the PLO.
PA 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 stops the monthly transfer of tax money to the Palestinian Authority.
Political officials in Jerusalem say that Israel intends to contact the 25 countries that opposed the decision in the UN General Assembly 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 PA following the move it initiated in the UN, such as stopping the transfer of tax money that Israel collects for the PA, canceling the VIP travel certificates of PA 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 Israel managed to mobilize more countries in the UN to oppose the decision since the preliminary vote on the issue a month earlier.
Political officials in Jerusalem estimate that the new government does not intend to impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority and it will operate only in the international and legal arenas. Apparently, the government is afraid of the reaction of the U.S. 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 Palestinian Authority.
If this is indeed the final decision, then it is a mistake. The PA will interpret this as weakness and increase the pressure on Israel in the international arena.
In recent months, PA Chairman Abbas has returned to his old strategy of internationalizing the conflict with Israel by appealing to UN institutions and the International Court of Justice in The Hague 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, the PA chairman 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 PA 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 UN. 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.