There is exactly a week to go until the formal deadline set for the conclusion of the Middle East peace talks arrives. Although both are desperate to see the back of the negotiations, Israel and the Palestinians will face renewed pressure from the United States in these last few days to save Washington’s face by spinning out the process a while longer.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, told visiting Israeli MPs last week that he is ready to extend the talks until the end of the year on one condition: Israel commits to discussing final borders first, a subject Israeli has previously avoided.
Whether or not the US can string out this futile exercise a little longer, the next stage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has already come into sharp relief. Mr Abbas will deepen international recognition of Palestinian statehood, over the vehement objections of both Israel and the US.
It was hardly surprising then that, when Israel broke the terms of the talks late last month by refusing to release Palestinian prisoners, Mr Abbas submitted applications to join 15 international treaties.
The logic behind the Palestinian move is well-known: to gather ever greater legitimacy for statehood in the international arena, slowly turning Israel into a pariah nation for refusing to end the occupation.
This manoeuvre appears to be heading towards their joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) – thereby exposing Israelis to potential war crimes prosecutions.
The 15 conventions place a greater burden on the Palestinians than their occupier Israel, requiring, for example, that they protect the rights of women, children and the disabled and renounce torture, arbitrary arrest and the suppression of free speech. US criticism of the Palestinian move plumbed new depths of cynicism, and provoked harsh rebukes from leading human rights organisations.
Furthermore, none of the treaty bodies considering the Palestinians’ applications will suffer directly as a result. Because they do not receive direct US funding, they cannot be sanctioned by Washington, as happened when Unesco admitted Palestine in 2011.
Israel responded by severing most coordination with the Palestinians, as well as declaring that the monthly $100 million tax revenues it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf would be withheld. But, as one commentator noted, Israel’s withholding of tax revenues was nothing more than pure spin. More