The Obama administration said Monday it was reviewing its annual $440 million aid package to the Palestinians because of their effort to join the International Criminal Court to pursue war-crimes charges against Israel.
At the same time, however, the U.S. criticized Israel for withholding tens of millions in tax revenues to the Palestinians, saying such a step “raises tensions.” Taken together, the statements reflected Washington trying to come to grips with a Palestinian move it has spent years trying to avert and a peace process that offers no hope for an immediate breakthrough.
The Palestinian decision to join the ICC came after the U.N. Security Council last month rejected setting a three-year deadline for an Israeli withdrawal from Yehudah and Shomron. Israel fears Palestinian membership in the ICC could lead to a rash of politically motivated prosecutions that further isolate Israel and makes it hard for Israeli officials to travel abroad.
“We’re deeply troubled by the Palestinian action,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. She said joining the court “is entirely counterproductive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state. It badly damages the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace.”
Under American law, any Palestinian case against Israel at the ICC would trigger an immediate cutoff of U.S. financial support. Membership itself doesn’t automatically incur U.S. punishment.
Secretary of State Kerry discussed the matter by telephone over the weekend with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Other U.S. officials spoke with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
The administration is reviewing its assistance to the Palestinians to ensure it complies with U.S. law, Psaki said.
“The focus right now is to continue to encourage both sides,” Psaki said.