Thursday, January 1, 2015 1:02 pm
The Palestinians faced a fresh diplomatic battle Thursday after taking steps to join the International Criminal Court in a move strongly condemned by both Washington and Israel.
The dramatic move to join the Hague-based court, which could pave the way for the Palestinians to sue Israeli officials over war crimes, came less than 24 hours after the UN Security Council rejected a resolution seeking to set a deadline for ending the occupation.
The resolution’s failure was hailed by Israel as a success, but Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas quickly moved to sign a request to join the court, finally making good on a threat which has been in the offing for years.
The Palestinians hope that joining the court will pave the way for them to seek justice against Israel for its actions in the occupied territories.
The move drew a sharp reaction from the US State Department and a derisive response from Israel.
“We will rebuff this attempt to force diktats on us just as we repelled the Palestinian appeal to the UN Security Council,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late on Wednesday, insisting the Palestinians had more to fear from the court than Israel.
“It is the Palestinian Authority that has formed a unity government with Hamas — an avowed terrorist organisation that, like the Islamic State (group), carries out war crimes — which should be concerned about the ICC,” he said.
State Department spokesman Jeffrey Rathke said Washington was “deeply troubled” by the attempt to join the ICC, warning it would only “push the parties further apart.”
“Today’s action is entirely counterproductive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state,” he said.
The ICC can prosecute individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed since July 1, 2002, when the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, came into force.
To become a party to the court, the Palestinians must sign and then ratify the treaty.
The request was signed by Abbas during a leadership meeting at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah that was broadcast live on Palestinian television. At the same time, he also signed applications to join 20 other international conventions.
In response, Netanyahu convened a meeting Thursday with Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon to discuss a possible response to the move, public radio reported.
In 2009, the Palestinians appealed to the ICC to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes during the Gaza war over New Year 2009 but the request was never processed because Palestine was not considered a state party.
But later that year, Palestine’s UN rank was upgraded from observer entity to observer state, thereby opening the possibility for them to join the ICC and a host of other international organisations.
– The ‘nuclear option’ –
On Tuesday, the Security Council failed to pass a Palestinian-drafted resolution setting a 12-month deadline to reach a final peace deal and demanding a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories by the end of 2017.
Israel hailed the rejection as a victory, saying it dealt a blow to Palestinian efforts to diplomatically “embarrass and isolate” the Jewish state, but the Palestinians denounced the vote as “outrageously shameful.”