Wednesday May 23, 2018
Accusing Israel of systematic crimes, including apartheid in
the occupied territories, Palestinians on Tuesday urged the International
Criminal Court to open an investigation that could ultimately lead to charges
against Israeli leaders.By ratcheting up tensions with Israel, the referral to the ICC would
seem to further diminish prospects of success for an expected U.S. peace plan.
U.S. officials have said President Donald Trump is to unveil the plan in the
Israel immediately slammed the Palestinian move as "legally invalid."
The referral seeks an investigation into Israeli policies in the West Bank,
east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip since Palestine accepted the ICC's jurisdiction
in 2014, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told reporters in The Hague.
This includes Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem,
as well as bloodshed in the Gaza Strip. Israel and Gaza's ruling Hamas militant
group fought a 50-day war in 2014, and in recent weeks, Israeli fire has killed
over 100 Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border since March.
The last round of peace talks broke down four years ago without any visible process,
and mistrust between Israel and the Palestinians is running high.
The Palestinians have repeatedly accused the U.S. of siding with Israel,
especially after the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel's
capital in December, followed by last week's embassy move. The Palestinians,
who claim east Jerusalem as their capital, have severed most ties with the
Americans and said the White House is unfit to serve as a mediator.
Still, Malki insisted that going to the ICC could become a building block for
"Justice is the cornerstone of peace," he said. "As such we view
this step as advancing the prospects of peace."
The United States disagreed.
"We have made clear that we oppose actions against Israel at the ICC as
counterproductive to the cause of peace," said Edgar Vasquez, spokesman
for the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
The State Department declined to say whether the move would trigger a closure
of the PLO office in Washington under a provision in U.S. law that requires it
to be closed if the Palestinians seek prosecution of Israelis at the ICC.
Israel, which is not a member of the ICC, argues that the court does not have
"The purported Palestinian referral is legally invalid and the ICC lacks
jurisdiction over the Israeli-Palestinian issue, since Israel is not a member
of the court and because the Palestinian Authority is not a state," an
Israeli Foreign Ministry statement said.
In 2012, Palestine won upgraded status to a nonmember observer state at the
U.N., which allows membership in many world bodies, including the ICC.
Although Israel is not an ICC member, its citizens can be charged by the court
if they are suspected of committing grave crimes on the territory or against a
national of a country that is a member. The ICC has recognized
"Palestine" as a member.
The ICC is a court of last resort — authorized to take on cases where national
authorities cannot or will not launch prosecutions.
Israel said it expects the ICC and its prosecutor "not to yield to
Palestinian pressure, and stand firm against continued Palestinian efforts to
politicize the court and to derail it from its mandate."
It also hinted at retaliation.
"The Palestinian Authority needs our cooperation in many fields,"
said Michael Oren, Israel's deputy minister for diplomacy. "Israel will
look very critically at whether such cooperation can continue."
The ICC has been conducting a preliminary inquiry since 2015 in the Palestinian
territories, including Israel's settlement policy and crimes allegedly
committed by both sides in the 2014 Gaza conflict. Tuesday's referral could
speed up a decision on whether to open a full-blown investigation that could
ultimately lead to the indictment of high-ranking Israelis. The investigation
is also looking at Hamas rocket attacks aimed at Israeli civilian population
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement that the preliminary probe
"has seen important progress and will continue to follow its normal
She said she must consider "issues of jurisdiction, admissibility and the
interests of justice."
In a summary of its referral, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry alleged that
Israel maintains and protects its settlements "by committing war crimes,
crimes against humanity and the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian
Apartheid was the name given to the racist policies of South Africa's former
white rulers. It is considered a crime against humanity by the ICC and defined
by the court as inhumane acts "committed in the context of an
institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial
group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of
maintaining that regime."
Palestinian Assistant Minister for Multilateral Affairs Ammar Hijazi said the
recent Gaza violence pushed the Palestinians into going to the court, adding
that it "requires that we take action and this is why we moved in this
Human rights groups say Israel's open-fire orders are unlawful because they
allow the use of potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters at times
when soldiers face no imminent threat to their lives.
Israel has said it was defending its border and accused Gaza's ruling Hamas
militant group of using the unrest to carry out attempted attacks and of using
civilians as human shields. Israel also has blamed Hamas for the heavy civilian
death toll during the 2014 war.
Israel says it has investigated actions by its forces in the Gaza conflict and
has opened a number of investigations into the latest Gaza violence as well.
But critics say the probes rarely lead anywhere.
"Israel acts in accordance with independent and thorough judicial review
mechanisms, befitting a democratic state, and in accordance with international
law," the Israeli statement said.
While the ICC can indict suspects, it has no police force and has to rely on
cooperation from member states to enforce arrest warrants.
Israel says the criticism of its settlements is unfounded. It says east
Jerusalem is an inseparable part of its capital, and considers the West Bank to
be disputed territory whose fate should be decided in negotiations. The
international community, however, overwhelmingly considers the settlements
In 2004, the U.N.'s highest judicial organ, the International Court of Justice,
ruled in an advisory opinion that the settlements breached international law.
In late 2016, the U.N. Security Council also declared the settlements to be
Over 600,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories
sought by the Palestinians as parts of a future state. Israel captured both
territories from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.
Under international law, it is illegal to transfer populations out of or into
Malki said it was time for the Palestinians to seek redress in court.
"We will not allow injustice to be Palestine's destiny," he said.