The International Criminal Court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the occupied Palestinian territories and set the stage for a trial against whether Israel and the Islamist group Hamas committed war crimes during a bloody war in 2014.
The ruling infuriated Israel, which never signed the 1998 Rome Statute that established the ICC, and enraptured Palestinians, who have long sought to hold the Jewish state responsible for violations of international law over the 53-year occupation. of the West Bank. Gaza and East Jerusalem.
“This is pure anti-Semitism,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a late-night speech after the court issued his 2-1 ruling. “The court outrageously claims that when Jews live in our homeland it is a war crime, and that when democratic Israel defends itself against terrorists who murder our children and rocket our cities, we are committing another war crime.”
The court has not made any such ruling or claims. Instead, the narrow ruling settled a question from the Public Prosecution Service whether Palestine, which is not a state, could delegate its jurisdiction over allegations of criminal Israeli misconduct to the ICC.
The Palestinian Authority, a semi-autonomous body that established the Oslo Accords in 1993, is an observer state at the United Nations and signed the Rome Statute in 2015, with the support of the Arab states, but despite Israel’s objections . and the USA.
“By becoming a State Party, Palestine has agreed to submit to the terms of the Statute and as such all its provisions will be applied,” said the ICC. “It would indeed be contradictory to allow an entity to accede to the Statute and become a State Party, but limit the inherent effects of the Statute on it.”
The ruling now gives prosecutor Fatou Bensouda the freedom to decide whether to continue her six-year investigation into the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and whether to accuse Israeli officials or soldiers of war crimes. She has previously said that her investigation has convinced her that such crimes did indeed take place, but Ms. Bensouda’s term ends in a few months.
The death toll is disputed by both sides; Israel’s preliminary analysis accepts that it killed at least 760 civilians – including 369 children – in more than 6,000 airstrikes, but said this figure, “while unfortunate, does not imply that (the Israeli military’s) actions violated the principle of proportionality. “
Hamas has killed at least six Israeli civilians and 67 Israeli soldiers, and is holding the bodies of two for a possible prisoner exchange with Israel.
The prosecutor’s office is also investigating Hamas’s role in the conflict and allegations that it targeted Israeli civilians.
Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since a violent coup d’état against the Palestinian Authority in 2006, and Israel and Egypt have since placed the area under a relentless blockade that has destroyed the economy and largely trapped a population of 2 million people in a strip of land. of about 25 miles long.
The militant group, which enjoys widespread support in both Gaza and the West Bank, regularly fires short-range missiles and highly unreliable projectiles at Israel to put pressure on Israel in controversial negotiations over the amount of electricity it will receive, the distance the Gazan fishermen can go. sea and other ways to relieve the blockage.
Hostilities erupted into three full-fledged wars and several weeks of cross-border barrage, forcing Israeli civilians to seek refuge in air raid shelters. Dozens of Israeli civilians have been killed or injured since the 2014 war.
“This decision opens the door to prosecution of criminal liability for the most blatant crimes under the court’s mandate, which have been and are being committed against the Palestinian people,” said Riyad al-Malki, Palestinian foreign minister.
The ruling is a diplomatic blow to Israel and could pose problems for Israeli officials traveling abroad if the prosecutor issues an arrest warrant.
The US, which has also refused to sign the Rome Statute, said it shared Israel’s concerns.
“We are deeply concerned about the ICC’s ability to exercise jurisdiction over Israeli personnel,” said state department spokesman Ned Price. “We have always taken the position that the jurisdiction of the court should be reserved for countries that agree or are referred by the UN Security Council.”