Palestinians: ICC if no Israeli pullout deadline

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Palestinian U.N. ambassador said Thursday his government will join the International Criminal Court if the U.N. Security Council refuses to set a deadline for Israel to withdraw from all Palestinian territories. Joining the court would allow the Palestinians to pursue war crimes charges against Israelis.

With peace talks going nowhere and Israeli settlements expanding, Riyad Mansour said the Palestinians have turned to the Security Council "to force Israel to negotiate in good faith the end of occupation within a time frame."

Mansour said the Palestinians hope the Security Council will adopt a draft resolution that would set a deadline of November 2016 for an Israeli pullout from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, with a goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel. The resolution is almost certain to face opposition from the United States, which has said that only direct negotiations can end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"But if this additional door of peace is closed before us, then we will not only join the ICC to seek accountability," Mansour said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We will join other treaties and agencies" to build evidence "that we exist as a nation, we exist as a state although the land of our state is under occupation."

In fiery speeches at the U.N. General Assembly meeting of world leaders last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to have abandoned any hope of reviving peace talks.

After the collapse the last U.S.-led talks earlier this year, Mansour said the Palestinians believe it is "futile" to go back to "the old-style negotiations that led to failure."

Mansour said the Palestinians hope that under Security Council pressure, Israel will negotiate an end to the 47-year occupation by agreeing on final status issues, starting with setting borders based on lines predating the 1967 Mideast war, with minor adjustments.

If the council resolution is vetoed and the Palestinians join the International Criminal Court, it would also open the door to war crime charges against Palestinians.

Mansour said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has made clear that the Palestinians are prepared to be held accountable by the world's war crimes tribunal for any wrongdoing.

"But it is obvious that the one who is extremely afraid of this option is the Israelis, and those who are protecting the Israelis," the ambassador said.

If there is no Security Council action, Mansour said the Palestinians will consider other options such as an international conference including "all those who have influence over our situation in the Middle East and all those who are genuinely interested in peace and resolving this conflict." He pointed to the failed Geneva conferences on Syria and the ongoing Iranian nuclear talks with six major powers as examples.

"We will continue to exert all possible efforts to open doors for peace," Mansour said. "If one door is closed, we will not give up. We will look for another door. If the second door is closed, we will look for another one. Our objective is to find a very effective way to end this occupation as quickly as possible to allow for the independence of our state."

Mansour criticized the United States for refusing to use "tools available to them" to pressure Israel to negotiate in good faith.

He said several of President Barack Obama's predecessors were tougher — Dwight Eisenhower, who told Israel to withdraw from Sinai and the Gaza Strip in a very short period of time; and George H.W. Bush who opposed loan guarantees to Israel as long as settlement building continued Gaza and the West Bank. In Obama's first term, the U.S. pressed Israel to freeze settlements for 10 months, but Mansour complained that the U.S. failed to make the same demand during the failed talks led by Secretary of State John Kerry.

"The United States is capable of using tools where they can tell Israel they have to behave ... and to stop flouting the law and acting illegally," Mansour said.

He accused Israel of attempting to destroy the Palestinian national unity government, most recently through the Gaza war and in Netanyahu's speech to the General Assembly, where he tried to link Hamas to the Islamic State terrorist group.

Mansour said the Israelis have failed, but he acknowledged that the Palestinian Authority faces "tremendous challenges" in exerting its authority in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas. He said the Palestinian Authority is moving step-by-step, starting with overseeing the process of bringing materials for reconstruction of Gaza.

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