Palestine’s membership in the International Criminal Court formally began Wednesday, triggering debate about the practical likelihood of a plan to sue Israel for war crimes.
According to its founding document, the ICC exists to investigate and prosecute “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole,” including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Since it was founded in 1998, it has only officially investigated or prosecuted cases in Africa, including Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The United States is a signatory to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, but the Senate never ratified American membership.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally applied to join the court in late 2014. At the time, he expressed intentions to sue Israel for acts perpetrated on Palestinian land, including the construction of West Bank settlements and civilian deaths in missile strikes during the summer 2014 Gaza war. (RELATED: Palestinians To Sue Israel For War Crimes)
The Associated Press notes that the Palestinians accepted ICC jurisdiction over last summer’s clashes, meaning that the Hamas-run Gaza strip is also liable for war crimes charges for rocket attacks against Israel in the war.
The bid is complicated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party recent re-election, following a campaign in which Netanyahu promised to block the establishment of a Palestinian state. Statehood supporters claimed Netanyahu’s victory would encourage attempts to advance the cause on the international stage. (RELATED: How Netanyahu’s Win Frustrates Efforts For Solving Palestinian Question)
The ICC’s preliminary review of grounds for investigation is likely to be drawn out over a period of months or even years. In the meantime, the Palestinians may pursue other steps toward statehood.
Though Netanyahu softened his claim on a two-state solution shortly after winning the election in March, the White House said at the time that it would re-evaluate its stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. France, which is also taking a hard stance against Iranian nuclear enrichment at the ongoing multilateral talks with Iran in Switzerland, is reportedly preparing a new framework for UN-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon, however, called the Palestinians’ move “absolutely counterproductive” to the resumption of peace negotiations.
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