Palestinians join International Criminal Court
In the latest move to press their case using the international community, the “state of Palestine” was officially accepted into the International Criminal Court (ICC) paving the way for the court to bring Israel up on war crimes charges.
“Today is a historic day in the struggle for justice, freedom, and peace for our people and all those seeking justice worldwide,” Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said in a statement. We call upon the international community to support the inalienable rights of our people, including our right to self-determination, by supporting our peaceful movement to end decades of impunity, occupation, and exile. Once again we call upon all nations of conscience to recognize the State of Palestine on the 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
The Israeli government responds that the ICC has made an error by accepting the Palestinians.
“Israel’s position, similar to that of the U.S., Canada and others, is that the Palestinians do not have a right to join the ICC, and that the ICC has no jurisdiction in this case,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry wrote in a statement. “There is not [sic] Palestinian state that has been established by international law. In this context the ICC prosecutor erred when she opened a preliminary inquiry against Israel.”
In January, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda launched a “preliminary investigation” into events since June 2014, including last summer’s fighting between Israel and Hamas that killed more than 2100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis.
Israeli analysts say that while becoming a member of the ICC is an important diplomatic victory, it does not mean that Israel will be charged.
“It is clearly harmful for Israel in the sense of PR and its image to have an international court investigating potential crimes,” Robbie Sabel, a professor of international law at Hebrew University told The Media Line. “But in actual fact there is little chance the court will take action.”
Palestinians can try to bring a case against Israel for building in areas that Israel acquired in 1967, meaning the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel dismantled 21 communities in the Gaza Strip in 2005. These three areas are what Palestinians say must make up the future Palestinian state.
“The question of settlements in the West Bank is purely a political issue,” Sabel said. “I don’t think the court will want to rule on what are the borders of a Palestinian state and whether it should include east Jerusalem.”
The ICC was originally established to deal with actions that “shock the conscience of humanity,” and only in the case that the offending country does not investigate. The Israeli army is investigating the conduct of the army during last summer’s fighting in Gaza, although some human rights groups say the army cannot investigate itself fairly.
An investigation into the fighting in Gaza also lays the Islamist Hamas movement open to war crimes charges. A new report by Amnesty International found that Hamas targeted civilians when it fired rockets over the summer. It also endangered Palestinian civilians by firing from inside civilian areas.
While most Israeli analysts say that Israel has little to fear from the ICC, others say that the Palestinian move could have diplomatic consequences for Israel.
“I think Israel should be concerned,” Yossi Mekelberg, an expert at Chatham House told The Media Line. “It is part of a broader strategy to internationalize the conflict.”
He said that Palestinians have given up on negotiations with Israel, and believe the only way to achieve a Palestinian state is through international pressure.