Will the ICC inquiry meet the challenge of the Palestine question?
The Palestinian Authority has handed over its first submission of evidence of Israeli war crimes to the International Criminal Court (ICC), in a bid to speed up an ICC inquiry into abuses committed during last year’s Gaza conflict.
Standing outside the ICC after meeting the court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Thursday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki said he had submitted dossiers on the Gaza conflict, Israeli settlements on occupied land where Palestinians seek a state, and treatment of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
“Palestine is a test for the credibility of international mechanisms … a test the world cannot afford to fail. Palestine has decided to seek justice, not vengeance,” Maliki said.
It is not clear how long the process will take.
— State of Palestine (@Palestine_UN) June 25, 2015
The move may leave Israel in a quandary since it must decide whether to cooperate with the ICC investigation or find itself isolated as one of a very few countries that have declined to work with its prosecutors.
The Hague-based ICC, with no police force or enforcement powers of its own, is looking into alleged crimes committed by both Palestinian armed groups and Israel during the conflict but cannot compel Tel Aviv to give it information.
The Palestinian Authority joined the international court this year.
The Palestinian documents submitted on Thursday were not made public. It is understood that the documents describe Israeli settlements and why Palestine sees the action as a violation of international law.
Israel is not a member of the ICC and rejects the court’s authority.
Israel denies allegations of war crimes by its forces during the 2014 Gaza war and accuses Hamas Movement that controls the Gaza Strip of atrocities in firing thousands of rockets at Israeli population centres.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “The Palestinian move is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate the ICC and we hope that the prosecutor will not fall into the trap.”
“This is a Palestinian attempt to manipulate and politicise the judicial mechanisms of the ICC,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman of the Israeli foreign ministry. “We hope that the prosecutor will not fall in that trap.”
The United States also described the Palestinians’ move as “counterproductive”.
A ceasefire in August ended 50 days of fighting between Gaza fighters and Israel in which health officials said more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.
UN investigators said on Monday that Israel and Palestinian groups committed grave abuses of international humanitarian law during the conflict that may amount to war crimes.