The Hague: The Palestinian foreign minister asked the International Criminal Court on Tuesday to open an “immediate investigation” into Israeli regime crimes committed against the Palestinian people.
The step was sure to worsen the already troubled relations between the internationally backed Palestinian National Authority and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s regime. Peace talks have been frozen for over four years, and contacts between the two sides are minimal.
Speaking to reporters at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands, Foreign Minister Riad Malki said he submitted the “referral” to the court during a meeting with the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.
The referral sought an investigation into Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank, occupied East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip since the state of Palestine accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction in 2014, he said.
This includes Israeli colony-building policies in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the recent massacre in Gaza, where Israeli fire killed over 115 Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border, Malki added.
“There is a culture of impunity in Israel for crimes against Palestinians,” Malki said. “This referral is Palestine’s test to the international mechanism of accountability and respect for international law.”
The ICC has been conducting a preliminary probe since 2015 into crimes in the occupied territories, including Israel’s colony policy and crimes allegedly committed by both sides in the 2014 Gaza conflict. Tuesday’s referral could speed up a decision on whether to open a full-blown investigation that could ultimately lead to the indictment of high-ranking Israelis.
The move comes with Israeli-Palestinian relations at their lowest point in years in the aftermath of the US Embassy move to occupied Jerusalem and the Gaza massacre.
Israel is not a member of the ICC, but its citizens can be charged by the court if they are suspected of committing crimes on the territory or against a national of a country that is a member. The ICC has recognised “Palestine” as a member state.
While the ICC can indict suspects, it has no police force and has to rely on cooperation from member states to enforce arrest warrants.
The Palestinians appear to have an especially strong case in the matter of colonies. In 2004, the United Nations’ highest judicial organ, the International Court of Justice, ruled in an advisory opinion that the colonies breached international law.
In late 2016, the UN Security Council also declared the colonies to be illegal.
Over 600,000 Israelis now live in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem — territories sought by the Palestinians as parts of their future state. Israel captured both territories from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war