Nations express ‘deep concern’ at Israeli punitive measures

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — More than 90 countries have expressed “deep concern” at Israel’s recent punitive measures against the Palestinians, steps taken in response to a U.N. request for the International Court of Justice to render an opinion on the Israeli occupation.

In a statement released Monday by the Palestinians, the signatories called for a reversal of the Israeli measures, saying that regardless of their position on the General Assembly’s resolution, “we reject punitive measures in response to a request for an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice.”

Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen rejected their statement on Tuesday. “Meaningless statements and signatures will not stop us from making the right decisions that will protect our citizens and secure our future,” he said.

The 193-member General Assembly voted 87-26 with 53 abstentions on Dec. 30 in favor of the resolution to ask the International Court of Justice to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The request was promoted by the Palestinians and opposed vehemently by Israel. Even though rulings by the International Court of Justice are not legally binding, they can be influential on world opinion.

Israel’s new hard-line government responded on Jan. 6, approving steps to penalize the Palestinians in retaliation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of his Cabinet that the measures against the Palestinians were aimed at what he called “an extreme anti-Israel” step at the United Nations.

The government’s Security Cabinet decided to withhold $39 million from the Palestinian Authority and transferring the funds instead to a compensation program for the families of Israeli victims of Palestinian militant attacks.

It also decided to deduct the amount of revenue Israel typically transfers to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority by a sum equal to the amount paid last year to families of Palestinian prisoners and those killed in the conflict, including militants implicated in attacks against Israelis. The Palestinian leadership describes the payments as necessary social welfare, while Israel says the so-called Martyrs’ Fund incentivizes violence.

The Security Cabinet also targeted Palestinian officials directly, saying it would deny benefits to “VIPs who are leading the political and legal war against Israel.” The first Palestinian affected was Foreign Minister Riad Malki who said on Jan. 8 that he was returning from the Brazilian president’s inauguration when he was informed that Israel rescinded his VIP travel permit, which allows top Palestinian officials to travel more easily in and out of the occupied West Bank than ordinary Palestinians.

The statement released Monday was signed by representatives of Arab nations and the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation and 37 other countries — 27 of them from Europe, including Germany, France and Italy, as well as Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour welcomed the statement of support, telling The Associated Press that “we exercised our democratic rights to go to the General Assembly in a peaceful way, a legal way, and put a question to the ICJ to seek an advisory opinion.”

“What is amazing about that statement,” he said, is that it was signed by some countries that abstained or voted against the resolution referring the question to the court.

“But to punish people for going to the General Assembly in an adoption of a resolution is something else,” Mansour said. “That’s why they stood with us and opposed this policy of the Israeli government, and they are demanding a reversal of this decision.”

He predicted more countries will support the statement when the Security Council holds its monthly meeting on the Middle East focusing on the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Jan. 18.

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Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Jerusalem contributed.

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