TEL AVIV — Israeli military officers and experts are warning against funding freezes and other punitive acts against the Palestine Authority (PA) that they insist will jeopardize security coordination with Ramallah.
Targeting PA President Mahmoud Abbas for what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has termed a "diplomatic assault" against the Jewish state will harm Israeli security interests along with those of Ramallah, experts here insist.
"When radical Islam is spreading like a virus through the region and threatening our borders, now is not the time to provoke more radicalism and instability right here at home," an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer general said.
The move is just one of several harsh steps planned in response to Abbas' ICC membership request, which was accepted Jan. 6 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon despite objections from Washington.
"The PA has chosen confrontation with Israel and we will not stand idly by," Netanyahu told Cabinet members Jan. 4.
Other steps include encouraging supporters in the US Congress to terminate some $400 million in annual aid to Ramallah.
But experts here said pulling the plug on US aid will subject Israel to far greater and immediate risk than the remote threat that Israel will ever be investigated, let alone found guilty, of war crimes for last summer's war in Gaza.
As it now stands, PA forces "do the minimum, and often a lot more" to maintain stability, said retired Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief of staff.
By making arrests, confiscating weapons and otherwise acting in coordination with the IDF and Israel's Shin Bet security service, Ashkenazi said PA forces help contain terror not only in the West Bank, but in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem where so-called lone-wolf operatives are influenced by "the level of fury in the Palestinian street."
Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, outgoing chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), has characterized security coordination with the PA as "helpful; something that contributes to stability."
In an interview last year, he noted that PA forces "are doing this for their own interests, and not out of any love of Zion."
Gantz repeated a phrase coined by Ashkenazi, his predecessor, to describe coordination with Palestinian counterparts: "They more they do, they less we do."
In the run-up to Israeli elections March 17, opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog of the Labor Party and others vying against Netanyahu have assailed sanctions against Abbas as petty, unnecessarily punitive and counterproductive.
Even Israeli President Rubin Rivlin, a former member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, criticized the move as "not beneficial to us and to them."
Speaking to Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem Jan. 5, Rivlin noted that tax revenues owed to the PA are essential. Those funds, he said, "keep the PA functioning. It is in Israel's interest that the PA will function."
Danny Rothschild, a retired IDF major general who served as coordinator of operations in the West Bank, insisted that Israel must do its utmost to prevent the collapse of security coordination by forces loyal to a Palestinian leader committed to nonviolent resistance.
"Our government insists the problem with the Palestinians cannot be solved; it must be managed. But the worst thing for someone that wants to manage this problem is to behave the way our government is behaving," Rothschild said.
In a Jan. 8 interview, Rothschild, chairman of the annual Herzliya Conference hosted by Israel's Interdisciplinary Center, said precipitous political steps taken by either side can have unintended and extremely negative consequences.
"Security coordination should remain apolitical and immune to stupid decisions taken by both sides," he said.
"As long as Abu Mazen [Abbas] is committed to nonviolence, the PA and the security forces he commands should not be targeted]," Rothschild said.
Hyped ICC Threat
Despite Washington's position that the PA is not a sovereign state and therefore is ineligible for ICC membership, Ban formally accepted Abbas' application to join the Hague-based court.
In an announcement posted Jan. 6 on the UN website, Ban said statutes signed by Abbas "will enter force for the State of Palestine on April 1, 2015."
Jurisdiction will date back to June 13, 2014, ostensibly giving ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda the option of choosing to investigate allegations of war crimes committed during last summer's 50-day Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
Netanyahu has characterized the move as a defacto assault not only on Israel, but the soldiers and officers that make up its so-called people's army. "We will not allow IDF soldiers and commanders to be hauled before the ICC in the Hague," he told Cabinet members.
In a Jan. 7 interview, the legal expert said Netanyahu's concern for of IDF soldiers and commanders misrepresents the way the court operates.
"The ICC actually offers a strong deterrent to both sides and, as such, has a peacemaking role," she insisted.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.