Israeli PM Netanyahu Calls ICC Move to Probe Alleged War Crimes in Palestinian Areas ‘Baseless and Outrageous’
The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor said on Friday she would launch a full investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories as soon as the court’s jurisdiction had been established.
The announcement opens the possibility of charges being filed against both Israelis and Palestinians.
The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority welcomed the decision, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the ICC had no jurisdiction to conduct such an probe.
The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said a preliminary examination into alleged war crimes, opened in 2015, had provided enough information to meet all criteria for opening an investigation.
“I am satisfied that … war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip,” Bensouda said in a statement.
She said she had filed a request with judges for a jurisdictional ruling because of the contested legal status of the Palestinian territories.
“Specifically, I have sought confirmation that the ‘territory’ over which the court may exercise its jurisdiction, and which I may subject to investigation, comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza,” Bensouda said.
Determining where she can investigate should be resolved before she starts an investigation “and not settled only later by judges after my investigations are completed,” she said.
It is not clear when a decision will be made but Bensouda said she had asked the court to “rule expeditiously” and to allow potential victims to participate in proceedings.
The Palestinian Authority said in a statement, “Palestine welcomes this step as a long overdue step to move the process forward towards an investigation, after nearly five long and difficult years of preliminary examination.”
Netanyahu, on the other hand, said, “The court has no jurisdiction in this case. The ICC only has jurisdiction over petitions submitted by sovereign states. But there has never been a Palestinian state. The ICC prosecutor’s decision has turned the International Criminal Court into a political tool to delegitimize the State of Israel. The prosecutor has completely ignored the legal arguments we presented to her.”
“She has also completely ignored history and the truth when she says that the very act of Jews living in their ancestral homeland, the land of the Bible, that this a war crime,” he added. “We will not be silent. We will not bow our heads before this outrage. We will continue to speak out against this travesty of justice.”
“This is a dark day for truth and justice,” the Israeli leader declared. “It is a baseless and outrageous decision.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
“This is a dark day for truth and justice.
The ICC prosecutor has decided not to dismiss outright the Palestinian claim against the State of Israel. It is a baseless and outrageous decision. pic.twitter.com/SM1ve1ombw
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) December 20, 2019
The ICC has the authority to hear cases of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity committed on the territories of the 123 countries that have signed up to it. Israel has not joined the court, but the Palestinian Authority — which exercises limited self-rule in large parts of the West Bank — has done so.
The ICC prosecutors said in December that a preliminary investigation on the West Bank had focused on “reported settlement-related activities engaged in by Israeli authorities.”
The prosecutor’s office has also looked into allegations of Israeli violations in Gaza and that Palestinian security services in the West Bank have committed torture and that Palestinian governing entities paid families of Palestinians involved in attacks on Israelis.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon stated, “The prosecutor’s decision in the International Criminal Court reflects the anti-Israeli tendency rooted in The Hague; the institution is becoming nothing more than another partisan political tool to wield against the Jewish state. This decision exposes the ICC’s desire to follow political considerations, not legal ones; Israel has legal and historical rights in the Land of Israel, which no court can change.”
“This only serves to reward the Palestinian campaign to curry international favor instead of negotiating directly with Israel,” he went on to say. “It will not advance the cause of peace, but, instead, undermines the very institutions that are designed to promote international peace and security.”
Yair Lapid, a co-founder of Israel’s centrist Blue and White party, tweeted, “The ICC prosecutor has caved in to Palestinian lies and hatred. As a former member of the Security Cabinet and member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, I can testify that the IDF does more than any army in history to prevent civilian causalities.”
Arthur Stark, chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said, “We reject in the strongest terms the baseless assertion of jurisdiction by the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, in any case brought by the Palestinian Authority. This is a prelude to yet another smear campaign against the Jewish state by an international body that seeks to impose itself into a situation well beyond its province.”
“As stated by Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, the ICC’s jurisdiction only permits its involvement in disputes between sovereign states” they continued. “According to the criteria established by international law and the ICC’s own founding Statute, it is demonstrably and irrefutably clear that the Palestinian Authority is not a sovereign state. To claim otherwise is a distortion of law and only serves to reduce the ICC’s legitimacy as an unbiased judicial forum.”
“The Palestinian Authority has further frustrated any prospect of peace by continuing to flout the agreed upon basis for negotiations. In appealing to the ICC, the PA is attempting to dictate a political end through judicial means and thereby avoid negotiations. The ICC being used in such a way betrays its purpose. This will not achieve progress toward a viable and lasting resolution to a conflict which can only be solved through direct political negotiations between the two sides,” Stark and Hoenlein concluded.