When the Palestinians sought statehood at the United Nations in 2011, it was widely dismissed as a symbolic gambit to skirt negotiations with Israel and Washington’s influence over the long-running conflict. But the Palestinians have begun to translate a series of such symbolic steps, culminating in last week’s move to join the International Criminal Court, into a strategy that has begun to create pressure on Israel.
While many prominent Israelis have called for unilateral action to set the country’s borders, it is Palestinians who have gained political momentum with moves made outside of negotiations. The Palestinians are, in effect, establishing a legal state. International recognition, by 135 countries and counting, is what Palestinians are betting could eventually force changes on the ground — without their leaders having to make the concessions or assurances they have long avoided.
“Those states that have recognized the State of Palestine, that’s not an insignificant number, they’ve reached a kind of critical mark,” said Mark Ellis, director of the London-based International Bar Association. “We’ve added an additional complexity to this very long 66-year-old journey. I think it’s intriguing.”Israel has promised painful retaliation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel promised Sunday that he would “not sit idly by” in the face of what he called Palestinian “confrontation,” and other Israeli officials said harsher measures would follow their freezing the transfer of Palestinian tax revenue, which will prevent thousands from collecting government paychecks this week.