Nearly half a century ago, back in 1968, Woody Allen had his own television show devoted to snappy quips about this and that. In one ten-minute segment, he brought William F. Buckley on as a guest and the two of them fielded questions from the audience. One earnest young woman directed her query to Mister Allen: “Do you think Israel should give back the land it won in last year’s war?”
Allen said no and then paused a moment for effect. “… I think they should sell it back.”
The audience laughed appreciatively but in fact that view has ever since been the official policy of both Israel and the United States. Israel is prepared to sell it back but there has been much haggling over the price. At the very least the demand is for the Palestinians who purchase it to practice civility and neighborliness in snuggling up against the Jewish state’s fragile border.
Now a fresh crisis has emerged from a series of waspish maneuvers by Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and his Israeli counterparts. Voters once chose Abbas to lead that entity but since then they have neglected to hold another election. Like his late mentor Arafat, Abbas fancies himself a “float like a butterfly sting like a bee” negotiator in the tradition of Muhammad Ali. To force Israel’s hand into holding a fire sale he asked the United Nations to declare his bailiwick a state. When this effort fell short he decided to bring charges against Israel at the “World Court” in the Netherlands. These purported infractions involve war crimes in returning fire against Gazan rocketeers imbedded among civilian populations.
Besides the impoliteness of bypassing negotiation to appeal to international bodies — or international busybodies — there are elements of dubious legality in this prosecution. By rule the World Court does not engage plain tiffs; only duly constituted nations may serve as plaintiffs. Abbas does not yet have a state, nor does he govern all Palestinian territories. Indeed the alleged atrocities took place in Gaza, the area Abbas does not control. Thus Abbas has no standing and the Court should not be sitting; worse, they are all lying! There were no crimes and Hamas terrorists were the true aggressors.
To push back against this frivolous lawsuit and the end run around the good faith bargaining table, Israel is not collecting taxes for the Palestinian Authority. The interim arrangement between Israel and the Authority provides for Israel to use its revenue service to round up taxes owed the West Bank and deliver them to Abbas so he can fund the Authority’s governmental activities. Israel sees no reason at this time to fill the coffers of a crew suing them for war crimes.
In truth, Israel has the moral, legal and financial right to withhold large sums for a different reason. The Authority is supposed to pay Israel for its usage of electricity and water. Instead it has run up a huge bill. So every month for years Israel has been sending tax revenue and a utility invoice; the PA grabs the money and ignores the bill! Israel has been extremely patient and forgiving, and even now is not applying the withheld taxes toward the unpaid receivables. It is merely escrowing the funds until the Palestinians drop the lawsuits.
Abbas and the boys are not backing down. Instead they are threatening the Israelis with the prospect of the Authority being unable to function. They even hint they might disband entirely and leave anarchy in their wake. And although the Netanyahu administration is not losing any sleep, the Obama administration is petrified. Watchers of American politics can really relish this irony; the Obama White House regularly stares down the Republicans and dares them to shut down the government. Yet here they are in terror that Abbas may do that very thing.
In that same joint Allen-Buckley appearance, Woody turned to William F. and asked where he thought the Middle East conflict would lead. Buckley opined that eventually the Arabs would get tired of the fight and recognize it was time to move on. No sign of that happening any time soon….
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