On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority urged the International Criminal Court in Hague to carry out a full inquiry into what they called Israel’s “grave crimes” since 2014. The Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad al-Malki, handed over a referral to prosecutors of Hague court that calls for the court to investigate Israeli fire killing at least 60 Palestinians in protests at the Gaza border and Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel immediately came at the Palestinian Authority’s request, claiming that they were just defending their homes during the conflict last week and it was “legally invalid” for Palestinians to breach the fence bordering Israel. And Israel responded strongly against the court’s potential entanglement in the protracted Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
The International Criminal Court has been conducting preliminary inquiries about Israeli-Palestinian dispute since 2015, especially about Israel’s policy of settlement construction in the West Bank and the behaviour of both sides in the fighting in Gaza in 2014. Although some European countries, who are Palestinians’ biggest financial donors, have long discouraged a referral to the international body, the Palestinian Authority requested the Hague court for a fuller investigation, which may potentially lead to indictments of Israeli officials.
Palestinians Ask Hague Court to Open Full Inquiry Into Israel
The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday urged the International Criminal Court to immediately carry out a full investigation into what it described as the successive and continuing Israeli crimes against Palestinians since 2014.
Israel quickly assailed the request, which came a week after at least 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in protests at the Gaza border, calling it “legally invalid.”
The Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad al-Malki, arrived at the court’s headquarters in The Hague on Tuesday to hand over a so-called referral to prosecutors that also calls for the court to investigate Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
According to a Palestinian statement, the referral document reinforces the Palestinian view “that there is sufficient compelling evidence of the ongoing commission of grave crimes to warrant an immediate investigation.”
The court has been conducting preliminary inquiries since 2015 into issues including Israel’s policy of settlement construction in the West Bank and the behavior of both sides in the fighting in Gaza in 2014.
The Palestinian statement on Tuesday sought to accelerate the creation of a fuller investigation, potentially leading to indictments of Israeli officials.
“The referral should cover all the Israeli crimes and violations committed/to be committed against the people of Palestine in the past, present and future,” the Palestinian statement said.
“The referral will cover crimes associated with the Israeli colonial settlement regime in the Occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem.”
The court “will be expected to accelerate the opening of a criminal investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel,” the Palestinian statement said. “It is time to hold the Israeli war criminals accountable and to bring justice to the Palestinian People.”
A lawyer on the Palestinian team clarified that the referral covered the period starting in 2014.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the court had no jurisdiction over the Israel-Palestine issue because Israel “is not a member of the Court and because the Palestinian Authority is not a state.”
The Israeli response reflected Israel’s strong opposition to the court’s potential entanglement in the protracted Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the possibility that Israeli leaders could be indicted — even if by a court they do not recognize.
The Palestinians used their upgraded United Nations status as a nonmember observer state to join the court three years ago, which subjected the Palestinian territories to court jurisdiction. They authorized the court to investigate the 2014 conflict in Gaza.
Under the court’s rules, any member country can request an investigation.
The legal maneuver on Tuesday came at a moment of especially high tensions between Israelis and Palestinians after the United States formally relocated its embassy to Jerusalem and the fatal shooting of scores of Palestinians in Gaza whom Israel accused of trying to storm a border fence.
Last week another international body, the United Nations Human Rights Council, considered a resolution to “urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry” to investigate “all alleged violations and abuses” of civilians since the latest Gaza protests began on March 30.
The Palestinian case against Israel is by far the most high profile and politically sensitive issue to reach the court since it opened in 2002. According to its website, the court is currently investigating 11 “situations,” the bulk of them in sub-Saharan Africa, involving allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Should the court’s chief prosecutor, currently Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, seek to take up a criminal investigation of Israel, the case faces a series of time-consuming hurdles.
Initially, the prosecutor may use open sources to build a case, and it is then up to the court’s pretrial judges to decide whether the evidence is sufficient to approve a criminal investigation.
Should a criminal investigation begin, the prosecution’s investigators would look into possible violations by both sides. Israel has made clear that it will not cooperate with the court, making it unlikely that senior Israeli officials will easily come before the court.
Lawyers appearing with the Palestinian delegation at the court on Tuesday, however, told reporters that the institution does have jurisdiction in the Palestinian territories, and can therefore immediately begin investigating charges relating to settlement construction and deportations.
Some countries in Europe — the Palestinians’ biggest financial donor — have long discouraged a referral to the international body, fearing that it will become inextricably enmeshed in a quagmire to the detriment of its other work.
Source: New York Times, Marlise Simons, Alan Cowell & Isabel Kershner, May 22, 2018. Photo credit to Hosam Salem/ The New York Times .