Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, on Friday announced that she would start an investigation into Palestinian claims that Israel had committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lambasted the decision by the world’s highest criminal court to probe alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories.
Speaking to cabinet ministers on Sunday, Netanyahu claimed the International Criminal Court (ICC) “finally became a weapon in the political war against the State of Israel”.
“Who are they accusing here? Iran? Turkey? Syria? No – Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. This is terrible hypocrisy,” the Prime Minister added, as quoted by Ynet news site.
He argued that the decision by Fatou Bensouda to open an investigation “contradicts historical truth” and “opposes the right of the Jews to settle in the Jews’ homeland.”
“To turn the fact that Jews are living in their land into a war crime is an absurdity of unimaginable proportions,” Netanyahu noted.
He made the case that the ICC shouldn’t have accepted complaints from Palestinians because it only has a mandate over cases where at least one of the sides is a signatory to the Rome Statute. Israel is not a member of the International Criminal Court, while Palestinians signed up to the treaty in 2015.
Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon, in turn, described the ICC move as an act of “diplomatic terror.”
“We will be active in the coming weeks in an effort to apply pressure to prevent this issue from developing into an indictment,” he added. “The prosecutor said she did hand it over to the court to decide whether to continue with this case or not. It left us an opening that we intend to try and exploit.”
The issue of Palestinian statehood
The State of Palestine has a non-member observer status in the United Nations and is recognised by 138 of the 193 UN members. Israel and the United States, as well as Australia, Canada, Japan and most of the European Union, do not recognise it.
Fatou Bensouda has now referred the matter to the pre-trial chamber before opening an investigation, asking for clarification on whether the ICC can regard the Palestinian territories as a state.
The United States, which has recently supported Israel on several controversial issues such as the status of Jerusalem and of the Golan Heights, has stated that Palestinians should not qualify as a sovereign state. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement: “We firmly oppose this and any other action that seeks to target Israel unfairly.” Like Israel, the US is not a state party to the Rome Statute.
The war crime accusations
An independent UN commission concluded in February 2019 that Israeli troops may have committed “war crimes or crimes against humanity” against Palestinians during the Great March of Return – a series of mass protests by Palestinians at the Gaza-Israel border.
During those protests, Israeli security forces deployed live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas in response to Palestinians throwing stones, Molotov cocktails and firecrackers at the border fence. Hostilities at the border left 189 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier dead and more than 6,000 Palestinians wounded between March and December 2018, the UN commission said, calling for Israel to investigate the affair. Israel dismissed the report as being “biased” against it.
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