December, in short:

  • ICC announces potential investigation of Israeli and Palestinian war crimes: Final decision on whether to move forward to be determined 120 days after announcement
  • Israel and Hamas appear to move closer to truce: Significant steps taken by both sides as reports suggest agreement is imminent
  • New poll shows Israelis and Palestinians still prefer two-state solution: Continued support for independent Palestinian state alongside Israel far outpaces that of other options 
  • Productive steps taken by US House of Representatives: Provides funding for aid to Palestinians, demonstrates support for a two-state solution and opposition to annexation
  • No significant progress towards Palestinian elections: Abbas waiting to issue official decree until Israel agrees to allow elections in East Jerusalem  

These events moved the Two-State Index (TSI) up by 0.7% (up by 0.03 points from 5.55 in previous month).

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International Criminal Court announces intention to investigate Israel and Hamas

The International Criminal Court in The Hague announced on December 20th that “there is a reasonable basis to initiate an investigation” into alleged Israeli and Palestinian war crimes committed in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Regarding the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the ICC’s report accuses Israel of intentionally launching at least three disproportionate attacks, willful killing and willfully causing serious injuries, and intentionally attacking Red Cross personnel or institutions. The report accuses Hamas of intentionally attacking Israeli civilians, using Palestinian civilians as human shields, willfully depriving civilians of the rights to a fair trial, willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, and “outrages upon personal dignity.”

However, Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda chose to refer the question of ICC jurisdiction to the court’s pre-trial chamber, despite her belief that Palestine qualifies as a state under the Rome Statute of the ICC; the chamber will have 120 days to issue a ruling. If the investigation proceeds, it could also include war crimes by Israel for promoting settlements in the West Bank, as well as the IDF’s use of “non-lethal and lethal means” against Palestinians during protests along the Gaza border. Attorney Michael Sfard, legal advisor to Yesh Din, expects the ICC’s pretrial chamber to support Bensouda’s position on jurisdiction, partly due to Israel’s paucity of investigative action in the West Bank. Sfard noted that “only 20% of complaints filed in 2017–2018 regarding suspected crimes of soldiers against West Bank Palestinians led to an IDF investigation, and only about 3% of the investigations resulted in indictments.”

Already, the ICC’s announcement is having an effect on Israeli policy in the West Bank, with moves towards annexation of the Jordan Valley now reportedly frozen after Netanyahu subsequently cancelled the first inter-ministerial meeting to discuss the issue. Moreover, Foreign Minister Israel Katz claimed that the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar has been delayed due to potential ICC action. The village is one of the last barriers to Israeli settlement construction in the area of E1, northeast of Jerusalem, which would cut the West Bank in half and prevent contiguity of a future Palestinian state.

If the ICC does move forward with a criminal investigation, it will then confirm the chief prosecutor’s consideration of Palestine as a state and likely have a long-term effect on Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank. For now, the ICC’s announcement shifts the Legal Institutions and Proceedings parameter from 3 to 4.


Signs of impending truce between Israel and Hamas 

Hamas and Israel continued to move towards a truce agreement in December, with relevant steps taken on both sides. On December 26th, it was announced that the weekly protests by Palestinians along the Gaza border with Israel – ongoing since March 2018 – would be suspended until the end of March, and would then be held monthly and for special occasions.  Another sign pointing to an imminent truce was Israel’s allowing the start of construction of a field hospital in Northern Gaza by a US-based Christian Evangelical volunteer group. 

This prompted outrage from Fatah and the PA, with whom the initiative was not coordinated. PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh claimed that construction of the hospital would serve the Trump administration’s “vision for peace” and said that the potential ceasefire “is another piece of evidence of the efforts aimed at strengthening the division [between Fatah and Hamas].” According to Nidal Foqaha, Director-General of the Palestinian Peace Coalition-Geneva Initiative, “any arrangement between Hamas and Israel is perceived negatively by the PA, and seen as another step towards Hamas building its own entity in Gaza.”

If achieved, a truce agreement would both further legitimize Hamas as the ruler of Gaza, and exacerbate the intra-Palestinian political split with Fatah. For now, with a major outbreak of violence in Gaza appearing increasingly unlikely, the steps taken towards an agreement in December moved the Prospects for War parameter from 5 to 4.


Israeli government enacts new cut in funds to PA

The Israeli security cabinet on December 29th decided to withhold $43 million in tax funds from the Palestinian Authority, the sum determined to have been provided over the past year to the families of slain or wounded Palestinian militants by the PA. These funds were in addition to the $138 million in taxes already withheld from the PA by Israel over payments to Palestinian prisoners and the families.

The decision not only weakens the PA financially, but damages its image among Palestinians as well, with the PA having agreed in October to resume accepting tax funds collected by Israel after refusing them over Israel’s previous deduction. The move is also seen as increasing chances for violence in the West Bank. Prior to the security cabinet’s vote on the matter, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman reportedly warned that "the offsetting of the funds could cause unrest.” 

However, the effects of the cuts remain to be seen thus far. All relevant parameters therefore remained the same in December.

New poll on Israeli and Palestinian views of two-state solution

A poll commissioned by the Geneva Initiative found that, when choosing between either a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or any sort of one-state outcome, the former option is preferred by a majority of Israelis (57%) and a plurality (42%) of Palestinians. Furthermore, the poll showed that a majority of Israelis (56%) believe that a continuation of the status quo without any progress towards peace with the Palestinians is bad for Israel. Similarly, it was found that a large majority of Palestinians (81%) think that that the status quo is bad for the prospects of an independent Palestinian state.

Commenting on the results of the poll, Geneva Initiative Director-General Gadi Baltiansky said that “the [Israeli] public is more realistic than some of its leaders and understands that the lack of a diplomatic process and a real effort to solve the conflict hurts Israel.”

With the poll demonstrating continued support for a two-state solution among both Israelis and Palestinians, all relevant parameters remained the same in December.

Positive moves from US Congress

On December 16th, the US House of Representatives agreed to allocate $150 million in aid to the Palestinians, which had previously been almost entirely cut by the Trump administration. Half of the aid was designated for Palestinian security forces, and the other half for promotion of coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, humanitarian and development projects, and East Jerusalem hospitals. Congress rejected a request to provide $175 million in funding for the Trump administration’s “vision for peace”, reflecting a belief that the “vision” will not be publicly released in the next year. This came on the heels of the December 6th passage of a nonbinding Congressional resolution supporting a two-state solution and opposing Israeli annexation of the West Bank. 

These measures, reflecting both symbolic and material support for a two-state solution, shifted the US-related parameter from 3 to 4.
Prospects for Palestinian elections highly uncertain

With Hamas having officially agreed on December 10th to separate presidential and parliamentary elections, the remaining step in the process is the issuance of a decree by President Abbas. However, Abbas continues to be adamant that elections will not take place unless they include Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Israel has now been formally asked by Abbas to allow the elections to be held in East Jerusalem, but reports suggest that Israel will choose not to respond to the request, in effect denying it. Thus, there is an increased likelihood that this stumbling block will prove insurmountable. 

With the path to Palestinian elections still unclear, all relevant parameters remained the same in December.
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