In December 2019, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that a five-year preliminary examination of the “situation in the state of Palestine” had provided her with “reasonable basis to believe that war crimes were committed” in the occupied West Bank, the besieged Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem al-Quds.
Before launching a probe, she asked the ICC pretrial chamber to confirm whether the Hague-based court, under the terms of the Rome Statute, had jurisdiction to investigate atrocities in the area.
Israel had argued that the tribunal had no jurisdiction as there was no sovereign Palestinian state.
On Friday, however, the three-judge pretrial panel ruled that “Palestine qualifies as ‘the State on the territory of which the conduct in question occurred,’” and that “the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”
The case now returns to Bensouda to decide whether she will move forward with the inquiry.
She had indicated earlier that the criminal investigation would focus on the 2014 Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, the occupying entity’s settlement policy, and Tel Aviv’s response to protests near the Gaza fence.
On Saturday, Israeli minister of military affairs Benny Gantz sent a letter to the army chief of staff, soldiers and commanders as well as the ministry’s director-general and the upper echelon of the regime’s security establishment.
He denounced the ICC pretrial chamber’s decision as “wrong, political and biased,” claiming that it was “a tool in the hands of the enemies of … Israel, and those who seek to harm it through the political exploitation of international bodies.”
“The decision of the judges at The Hague is grave and has no basis in international law. The proceeding…is conducted without authority and is unfounded,” he said.
Gantz also said that Israel “will act resolutely to prevent harm to IDF commanders and soldiers.”
The court’s decision has raised alarm among Israeli officials and military personnel, who may face global arrest warrants as a result of the probe.
Bensouda’s office welcomed the “judicial clarity” of the ruling, but said it needed time before deciding how to proceed.
“The Office is currently carefully analyzing the decision & will then decide its next step guided strictly by its independent & impartial mandate,” it tweeted.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh praised the decision as “a victory for justice and humanity, for the values of truth, fairness and freedom, and for the blood of the victims and their families,” Wafa news agency reported.
The move is a “message to perpetrators” who “will not go unpunished,” he added.
Additionally, the Gaza-based Hamas resistance movement said “any decision that contributes to supporting the rights of the Palestinian people and defends their freedom is an appropriate decision.”
“The Palestinian people await the day that the occupation and its leaders are brought to trial for their crimes against it. We call to use all means to stop Zionist terror and crimes against the Palestinian people,” the group underlined.
But the US State Department said it has “serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel.”
“The United States objects to today’s International Criminal Court decision regarding the Palestinian situation. Israel is not a State Party to the Rome Statute,” tweeted State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
“We will continue to uphold [US] President [Joe] Biden’s strong commitment to Israel and its security, including opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.”
Israel is not a member of the ICC. Neither is the US. Palestinians joined the court in 2015.