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Palestinians aim to isolate Israel with war crimes charges, demonstrations, sanctions

By Mohammed Daraghmeh

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

The Palestinian officials said they will not rush toward any punitive measure, but they are determined not to stand pat.

"We have to prepare ourselves for a long and tough battle," added Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Palestinians' top decision making body. "We will use all the political tools available."

Among the options being considered is halting cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. The cooperation is widely seen as a key element in preserving the calm in the West Bank in recent years, in sharp contrast to the heavy fighting a decade ago.

"There will be no security cooperation as long as there is no political horizon," said Mohammed Ishtayeh, a Palestinian Cabinet minister.

The Palestinians also talk of increasing "popular struggle," the term they use for demonstrations against Israeli soldiers. Such face-to-face confrontations frequently turn tense, with protesters throwing stones and troops firing tear gas and water cannons, and run the risk of growing more violent.

Perhaps most troubling to Israel, the Palestinians also want to use their upgraded status on the world stage to push for international action against Israel.

Officials say they will move to join the International Criminal Court, where they hope to pursue war crimes charges against Israel for its settlement activities. Although the road to taking legal action in the ICC appears to be long and complicated, it nonetheless has made Israeli officials jittery.

"We are going to pursue this policy to reach a point of having the international community impose sanctions on Israel," said Qais Abdelkareem, another PLO official.

This Palestinian agenda, while ambitious, is likely to encounter stiff resistance from both Israel and its international allies. Israel has a number of tools at its disposal, including possible military or economic pressure on the Palestinians. Israel's allies in the West, particularly the U.S., will also likely shield it from any attempt to impose broad international sanctions, at least in the near term.

But there are signs that international patience with Israel is wearing thin. There was strikingly sharp anger over the Israeli plan to build thousands of new settler homes in response to the Palestinian bid at the U.N.

The U.S., using especially harsh language, accused Israel of engaging in a "pattern of provocative action." All the members of the U.N. Security Council except the U.S. denounced the Israeli settlement plans at a special meeting this week.

The European Union has also condemned the planned construction. The 27-member bloc issued a statement earlier this month raising the possibility of requiring Israel to label any exports that originate in the settlements. It also noted that future cooperation agreements would not include territories captured in 1967, including east Jerusalem, which Israel claims as an integral part of its capital. There are fears that individual European states might impose sanctions of their own.

An Israeli official said the extent of the international uproar had caught officials off guard. "Something has changed," he said. "Clearly a line has been crossed." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing closed diplomatic meetings.

Yossi Beilin, a former deputy foreign minister and peace negotiator, said there is "no way" the status quo can continue and that Netanyahu "understands that this situation where the U.S. is the only one to support Israel cannot go on forever." He said Netanyahu, after pandering to hard-liners during the election campaign, will likely try to bring in a centrist party into his coalition after the vote to give the government an image of moderation.

"Reality might impose itself in such a way that we will find him doing things, like maybe an interim agreement with the Palestinians or something that seems now unexpected," Beilin said. "He will make small steps to appease adversaries. And to Netanyahu, the whole world is an adversary."

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