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Why the US Threatened to Cut Off Aid to Palestine if the UN Granted it Observer Status

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An Interview with Professor Francis Boyle regarding Palestinian status at the United Nations.

On November 29, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution to upgrade the Palestinian Authority's observer status to a non-member state. According to various sources, the U.N. General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state, despite threats by the United States and Israel that the Palestinian Authority would be punished by withholding much needed funds for the West Bank government. AFP reported that Britain threatened to abstain from the vote for enhanced Palestinian status at the UN, unless the Palestinians agreed not to take the Israelis to various international courts. 

As the vote was in progress, I spoke with Dr. Francis A. Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law, and the author of "The Palestinian Right of Return Under International Law," in order to find out why the US was making such dire threats of economic retaliation against the Palestinians, if they continued to pursue recognition by the UN. Professor Boyle is somebody who knows a great deal about the Palestinians and their rights under international law. He was advisor to the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its chairman, Yassar Arafat, on the Palestinian declaration of independence of November 15, 1988.

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Boyle said today, "This can be the start of a legal intifada by Palestinians against Israel." He joins us from Chicago. Professor Boyle -- welcome back to Flashpoints.

FB:  Thank you Dennis for having me on and my best to your listening audience.

DB:  Well, it is good to have you with us, and it's always an educational experience,  particularly when we're talking about Palestine. Maybe we could begin with your understanding of why the U.S. would threaten to cut off Palestine, and why the Brits are so upset.

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FB:  Well, you know, Dennis, the point is this, no member state of the United Nations organization has ever been destroyed or eliminated. Some of them have broken off into constituent units but they have never been extinguished. And you see, Israel would like all of Palestine, the West Bank, East Jerusalem -- without the Palestinians. And so it's important, as they see it, not to have a recognition of Palestinian statehood by the United Nations organization. It's that simple.

I've been working with the Palestinians now, their peace initiatives since 1987, and was legal advisor with the Palestinian delegation to the middle east peace negotiations. They never demonstrated even one iota of good faith when it came to negotiating a two-state solution with the Palestinians. And the reason is the zionists have always wanted all of Palestine going back to the Ball Conference of 1897. So nothing has changed. That is still their agenda, and that is why they are vigorously fighting against recognition of Palestine by the U.N. And last year, they fought against our admission as a member state to the United Nations. So this is a real existential battle here that has been going on now for a 115 years. And it's not about to end tomorrow.    

DB: All right. Well, let's see if we can talk a little bit about the real implications here, in terms of international law, because we know, anybody who has really followed this knows that Israel -- supported by the U.S. and many countries in western Europe -- has violated international law, and that there really is an illegal, ongoing occupation. It's been brutal.  We've seen two years in the last...two wars in the last...no, not wars -- two slaughters in the last four years, where Israel went after this Gaza strip where people couldn't even run. They didn't even have the possibility of becoming refugees again. And there's a lot at stake, in terms of the possibilities that lie before the Palestinians if they are recognized by the international community. And you lay out at least six possible legal remedies that the Palestinians could take if, in fact, this becomes a reality. Could you go through those for us?

FB:  Well, obviously Palestinians, you know, could barely defend themselves because the United States, the most powerful military power in the world, has given Israel over and over again every type of high-tech weapon system possibly imaginable. So their strong suit is international law. And I've just come up with a short list of things -- steps -- that I have already recommended to them, over in Ramallah, that they consider implementing. These steps are what I call a "legal intifada." 

First, of course, becoming a party to the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court. After Operation Cast Lead One, I advised President Abbas to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court under Article 12, paragraph 3, which he did do. And then we filed a big complaint with the ICC prosecutor over Operation Cast Lead One.

Now, what happened...the ICC prosecutor, Moreno Ocampo announced that he was going to be investigating two issues. One, did Palestine have the capacity to accept the jurisdiction of the ICC under Article 12, paragraph 3? And,  Two, did Israel create war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinians during Cast Lead? That second question was answered in the affirmative by the Goldstone Commission Report; that Israel had inflicted war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinians. 

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As for the first point, just before he left office, Ocampo announced that he did not believe Palestine had the capacity to accept the jurisdiction of the ICC under Article 12, paragraph 3. And, in any event, it was not for him to determine whether Palestine was a state. This, despite the fact that Palestine was admitted as a full-fledged member state of UNESCO, which is a U.N. specialized agency.   

So basically Moreno Ocampo copped out. And indeed, if he hadn't done that, there's a good chance Israel would not have repeated what I call Cast Lead Light, that just occurred for the last eight days here in November. In any event, in his press conference, Ocampo said, "But of course, Palestine could ratify the Rome statute and then proceed as a member state and that would solve the jurisdictional problem."

So, all Palestine has to do once it becomes a U.N. member state is accede to the terms of the Rome statute, and file that with the U.N. Secretary General which is the depository for the Rome statute. The Secretary General will be obligated to accept that instrument of accession and then Palestine can simply reactivate the complaint that's already there, and add in Cast Lead Light for November 2012. And, if they want to, also add all the settlements policy that is going on. The International Court of Justice ruled in its advisory opinion on the wall, that all these settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem violate the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. 

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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