PA Formally Recognizes ICC Jurisdiction for Gaza War

January 6, 2015  

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday said the Palestinian Authority had formally recognized the court’s jurisdiction to investigate crimes allegedly committed during last summer’s Gaza war, according to AFP

The legal declaration would allow the ICC to scrutinize offenses allegedly committed since June 13, 2014, the start of Israel’s military operation, but does not mean the court would automatically launch an investigation, it said.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) have formally requested to join the Hague-based court in a move which opens the way for them to file suit against Israeli officials for alleged war crimes in Judea-Samaria, a request that has infuriated Israel.

Acceptance of the ICC’s jurisdiction differs from accession to the Rome Statute, the Court’s founding treaty. The UN is still reviewing documents submitted by the Palestinian Authority to join the Court.

“On 1 January 2015, the Registrar of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Herman von Hebel, received a document… by the Palestinian government declaring Palestine’s acceptance of the jurisdiction of the ICC since 13 June 2014,” the ICC said in a statement.

It was on June 13 that Israel began a massive crackdown on terror in the PA after the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Israeli teenagers, triggering a series of events which led to a seven-week Gaza war.

“Acceptance of the ICC’s jurisdiction does not automatically trigger an investigation,” the court added.

The ICC can prosecute individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed since July 1, 2002, when the Rome Statute came into force.

The ICC only has jurisdiction from that date onwards, but those joining after that time may nonetheless separately accept the authority of the court for the period before the statute entered into force for them.

Tit for tat?

The Palestinian Authority (PA) formally presented a request to the United Nations on Friday to join the ICC, in a move firmly opposed by both Israel and the United States. On Friday, Israel delayed the transfer of $127 million to the PA in retaliation for the initial step.

Israel’s freezing funds apportioned to the PA has been used as a political tactic before, as the PA is already struggling to dig itself out of at least $4.8 billion in debt. The PA regularly fails to stand by its agreements, and owes Israel staggering sums, including over 1.4 billion shekels (over $360 million) in unpaid electric bills.

Similarly, the US said it is “reviewing” its $440 million aid package to the PA over the move, although technically membership to the ICC does not incur punishment – only a war crimes suit against Israel does, under American law.

The PA has stated intent to file those charges against Israel in the Hague, and sources say that Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his aides are already preparing material to do so. 

However, Israel has already filed counter-suits; on Monday, legal rights group Shurat Hadin filed three more war crimes charges against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the terror group behind the PA, in the ICC. The PLO already faces criminal charges being levied against it in the US court system for terror attacks it committed during the early 2000s. 

But even if the PA files charges against Israel, legal rights experts say that having the ICC enter the fray of the Israeli-Arab conflict will ultimately harm the PA, Hamas, and the ICC itself – not Israel. 

In a recent interview, the PA’s envoy to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) admitted the PA has no hope of pressing charges against Israel in international courts – because Palestinian Arab terrorist groups are far worse violators of international law themselves.

The desperate move follows the PA exhausting other international means of prosecuting Israel, after its draft resolution calling for Israel to withdraw from Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem failed in a UN Security Council vote last week. 

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