Both Israel and the United States expressed opposition to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to sign the Rome Statute, which paves the way to joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) and legal action against Israeli leaders and officials.
Abbas signed the Rome Statute, the guiding document of the ICC and 21 other international treaties on Wednesday, the day after the United Nations (UN) Security Council failed to approve a Palestinian-led resolution mandating an Israeli West Bank withdrawal. Abbas commented on Palestinian TV, “They attack us and our land every day, to whom are we to complain? The Security Council let us down — where are we to go?”
It is expected that the ICC will ratify the Palestinian application following a 60 day period. However, both the UK and United States have previously opposed such a unilateral move, as it threatens to further embitter relations between Israel and the Palestinians and create barriers to a future negotiated agreement. US State Department spokesman Jeffrey Rathke reaffirmed that “The United States continues to strongly oppose actions … that undermine trust.” He said, “We are deeply troubled by today’s Palestinian action regarding the ICC,” which is “entirely counterproductive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people.”
If the Palestinian application is accepted, it would see the extension of ICC jurisdiction to the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which may expose Palestinians to prosecutions as much as Israelis. It was a point emphasised by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who pledged to rebuff the “diktat” and said, “The Palestinian Authority has more to fear having formed a government with Hamas, a known terrorist organisation.”
In another potential complication to Palestinian legal ambitions, the ICC can only intervene if no competent state authority has already taken action. Although Israel Radio news reports that Abbas has instructed complaints to be filed regarding Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s military has already begun prosecuting IDF personnel over several incidents during the summer Gaza conflict.