Podcast: Vincent Fean on the ICC, Trade Agreements and Umbrella Organisations

Diana Safieh:
A question from Sara Apps, is there an opportunity to unlock the blockage on the ICC application? What best can we do to help?

Vincent Fean:
Palestine joined the International Criminal Court in 2015 after the UN General Assembly in 2012 voted for non-member state observer status for Palestine in the United Nations. Over 130 countries of the United Nations have recognised the State of Palestine. The issue before the International Criminal Court is whether to investigate alleged war crimes in the region, war crimes by Palestinians, war crimes by Israelis. A prior question posed by the Court was to consider its jurisdiction. Does the ICC have jurisdiction over these allegations?

Recently, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has produced a report to the Court taking account of representations made by several governments, including the Palestinian Government, about the jurisdiction of the ICC. And the conclusion of the Prosecutor is that she maintains her earlier position, that the Court has jurisdiction.

I repeat that the investigation would cover both alleged Israeli breaches of law and alleged Palestinian breaches. It is now a question for the Court itself to determine the way forward, to take account of the Prosecutor’s opinion and to decide a) on jurisdiction and b) on the investigation itself.

What can the UK do? The United Kingdom Government has not intervened in this question of jurisdiction and the Court will make its ruling on that issue. I hope that in the House of Lords and in the Commons there are Parliamentarians able and willing to uphold the status and the independence of the International Criminal Court, which has come under severe pressure from the Trump administration and from Israel not to mount this investigation. I think it’s important, that as well as the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, that the International Criminal Court should be independent of political pressure, should withstand, should disregard it and should respect its own statutes in investigating cases which are brought to its attention.

Diana Safieh:

Our next question is from Paul Stewart. He asks: many of the organisations I support are Israeli and/or Jewish, whose concerns are surely highly relevant. Is there no umbrella body that can represent us all for the purposes of calling for action, lobbying government, and influencing international organisations?

Vincent Fean:

There are many organisations; many of them are pointing in the same direction and talk to each other, but there is no umbrella, or if there is, I’m not aware of it. In each country around the world, there are people who care about Israel/Palestine, who care about equal rights, about peaceful coexistence between the two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian. They get together in various ways. In Israel itself, there are several organisations which promote and defend Palestinian human rights, equal rights. I’m thinking of B’Tselem, Ir Amim, Breaking the Silence; there are a large number. Machsom Watch is another.

They all work. They talk to each other. I’ll add one more. The Policy Working Group led by Ilan Baruch and Alon Liel, a group of about 20 or 30 serious, experienced ex-diplomats, academics, politicians and others who believe that the best interests of Israel are defended and promoted by in practice a two state solution, a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel on 1967 lines.

These groups do talk to each other. I’m not aware of an umbrella internationally. Let’s think of the United States. If we’re thinking about the Jewish community – Paul mentioned Israeli or Jewish activists – then we have J Street alongside AIPAC.

In the United Kingdom, there are many organisations; again, no umbrella. There is a grouping of British charities called the Palestine Platform, which meets Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development officials and Ministers on a regular basis. I know that Medical Aid for Palestinians is part of that platform along with several other relevant charities.

Campaigning in the United Kingdom, at least in terms of numbers, is led by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Not everybody agrees with everything in each other’s constitution.

So coming back to the question of coordination, it’s highly desirable that there’s the right dialogue, for instance in the United Kingdom, between the Jewish community, which is diverse like any other community, and the other elements of the United Kingdom’s civil society.

As I said earlier, there’s no umbrella. The Balfour Project does what it can to reach out to others, but would not claim the authority to speak for all. The Balfour Project does what it can, on the basis of its values. We contribute to the debate with our focus on British past responsibility leading to our unique current role. Our job is to raise awareness across the United Kingdom among young people and among influencers and deciders of policy on the way forward, based on our value of equal rights for all between the Sea and the River.

Diana Safieh:

Our final question today is from Gerry Coutts. Surely sanctions on Israel are more important than a trade agreement. What about a weapons embargo?

Vincent Fean:

Trade agreements matter because economic relations matter. Every country needs to create and sustain jobs. And one way to do that, a big way, is through trade. The European Union and the UK together are Israel’s biggest market by far. That gives the European Union and the UK a certain amount of relevance, leverage if the member states and the UK choose to use it. So the terms of that relationship between Israel and the European Union and the UK are very important.

It’s key that those economic relationships make it clear that the settlement enterprise in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it’s not Israel, it’s definitively not Israel, because the settlements are in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Ensuring that any agreement with Israel by any of those states excludes the settlements, excludes the land which might be “annexed” by the State of Israel in the coming months, is very important – that demarcation, that differentiation. It takes us back to UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which calls on all member states of the UN to distinguish in their dealings between what I call Green Line Israel, the Israel of before June 1967, and the settler enterprise in the occupied Palestinian territory. That’s why trade matters.

Gerry asks about sanctions. I would just repeat the call by the British Parliamentarians in their letter to our Prime Minister of 1 May. I will repeat the quote: “Our Government has stated that any annexation “cannot go challenged.” The Government must now make clear publicly to Israel that any annexation will have severe consequences, including sanctions”. We will see how the British Government responds to that.

Gerry asks about a weapons embargo. It is not for me or the Balfour Project to define the British Government response. I think it is for us, as part of our advocacy as well as educational mission, to seek a British Government response, a clear unequivocal British Government response to the unacceptable status quo in the region.

As to a weapons embargo, I ask our listeners to consider what’s doable. What will this Government, elected in December 2019, do? What can it be asked to do that is within its realms of possibility?

I don’t seek to rule out any Government action. I suggest that the calls that we make as citizens on our Government be grounded in an assessment of what the British Government is likely to do. We should challenge the Government to do much more than it is now doing to uphold the equal rights of both peoples in Israel/Palestine.

Diana Safieh:

Can you say a word on how the Balfour Project is run, and the need for donations?

Vincent Fean:

We run on a shoe string. We need some money to ensure that we can grow and that our voice can get louder, particularly in this time of quiet and lockdown. It’s very important that international issues, like Israel/Palestine, don’t get submerged by the news coverage of the coronavirus. And we all know that’s 24/7, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

But life and the world are going on and political decisions are being taken which have an impact on the equal rights of Israelis and Palestinians. I believe that the charity has a useful function now and in the future to carry out our tasks of education, awareness-raising and advocacy. We need some money. That can come from several sources. It won’t come from Government. It will, I hope, come from some of the people listening to this podcast because we need money to enable us to hold public events when that’s possible again, and for us to run these events virtually between now and then. May I mention the event on the 7th of May, at 3 pm, when we will be showing our Balfour Project film on the British role in Palestine, 1917 to ‘48 and then a Q&A session. Our subsequent events are on 4 June and 30 June.
More of that in future emails to our subscribers.

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