The Palestinians are facing “intensive pressure” not to sue Israel for war crimes at the International Criminal Court if they win upgraded UN status, an official said on Wednesday.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said that various foreign governments, led by Britain, wanted guarantees that the Palestinians would not sue Israel if they win non-member state status on Thursday.
“We have not succumbed to pressure, we did not give any commitment,” she said, speaking a day before Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was to present the upgrade request to the UN General Assembly in New York.
“I can assure you that the text has been tabled, it will not be modified.”
Most of the pressure came from the British government, she said.
“The UK did try in an intensive effort to modify the text (of the resolution) and to get assurances and commitments,” she explained.
“It wasn’t only the UK but it was the most visible. We know that Israel, of course, was working through the US and through the UK to try and get commitments that Israel will not be taken to the International Criminal Court.”
Britain said on Wednesday that it couldn’t back the bid without Palestinian guarantees on the ICC, as well as a commitment to return to peace talks immediately and without preconditions.
“In the absence of these assurances the United Kingdom would abstain on the vote,” Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament.
And France, which is to vote for the bid, has also publicly opposed any Palestinian resort to the ICC.
Despite Britain’s expected abstention, and opposition to the bid from nations including the United States and Germany, the Palestinians are expected to easily win approval at the 193-member General Assembly.
“We’re going to have a vast majority, a vast majority, more than two-thirds,” Ashrawi said.
Palestinian officials have said they expect 60 countries to co-sponsor the resolution bid.
If the request is approved, it will give the Palestinians access to a range of UN agencies, and to the ICC, but Ashrawi said there were no plans to go immediately before the international tribunal.
“We haven’t decided that tomorrow we are going to be recognised as a state and the day after, we are going to the International Criminal Court,” she said.
“We said that we deserve that right, as we see fit and at the proper time,” she added.
“If Israel refrains from settlement activities and so on… there’s no immediate pressing reason to do that. If Israel persists in its violations, then certainly it will have to face accountability.”
Israel strongly opposes the UN bid, saying a Palestinian state can only emerge through bilateral negotiations and not through a vote by the global body.
It fears that the Palestinians could use their new-found status to take legal action against Israeli officials.
Ashrawi said she hoped that the threat alone would be enough to make Israel think twice about its actions towards the Palestinians.
“We hope that this will be a positive inducement for corrective action” on the part of Israel, she said.
“It has no reason to fear the ICC and the ICJ (International Court of Justice) if it is not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. If it is, well, certainly people who have committed crimes should be worried.”