International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has reportedly told the ICC’s Pretrial Chamber that it can take up the Palestinian Authority’s request to launch a war crimes investigation against Israel. Israel had countered that the Oslo Accords, on which the regional peace talks with the Palestinian Authority are based, prevent the PA from seeking ICC involvement in a potential criminal issue, as well as from seeking statehood in the absence of a peace deal.
In a clear rejection of Israeli’s legal argument, Bensouda’s decision on Monday gives Israel until June 24 to reply to the prosecutor’s recommendation. Israel may also choose not to reply, as any acknowledgement would give recognition to the ICC’s investigation, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Since Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute (the treaty that established the ICC in 1998 and entered into effect in 2002), the ICC may not have jurisdiction in any such case. The Palestinian Authority joined in 2015. The U.S. has warned that a war crimes investigation against Israel “will have consequences” for the ICC.
Bensouda has said in the past that she supports opening full war crimes probes against both Israel and the Hamas terrorist group. However, she seems to have been favoring the Palestinian arguments, prompting several Israeli officials to accuse her of prejudice and even outright anti-Semitism.
Bensouda further expressed concern about the impact of Israel’s plan to annex large swaths of Yehudah, Shomron and the Jordan Valley, adding that such an annexation would not be legally valid under international law, media sources reported.
The ICC chief prosecutor’s statement was in response to a request from the ICC Pretrial Chamber on May 27 to clarify the status of the Oslo Accords and their impact on a war crimes probe against Israel. The request followed PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration last month that due to the annexation plan, the PA is no longer bound by any treaty signed with Israel.
Of note is that according to a media report, Abbas informed the ICC that his May 19 declaration was not part of the case the PA seeks to launch against Israel. This qualification implies that, declarations notwithstanding, Abbas has not officially abandoned the Oslo Accords.