In response to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ complaint alleging Israeli war crimes during the 2014 war in Gaza, the International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary inquiry into the matter. The announcement from the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, makes clear that opening an initial inquiry is standard practice “upon receipt of a referral or a valid declaration.”
Reuters explains that the preliminary inquiry is how the ICC will decide whether or not to pursue a case: “Prosecutors will assess evidence of alleged crimes and determine if they are of sufficient gravity and scale to warrant charges against individuals on either side.”
As the New York Times points out, “Her preliminary examination, which could take months or even years, could theoretically also lead to charges against Palestinians for violence against Israelis in the nearly five decades of hostilities between the two sides.”
The ICC move is a gamble, but it’s one Mahmoud Abbas is willing to take. Abbas, who moved to join the ICC in December 2014, the day after his bid for Palestinian statehood was rejected by the U.N. Security Council, filed the war crimes complaint almost immediately after signing the Rome Statue, the court’s founding charter, as well as various other international treaties required for ICC membership. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced earlier this month that the Palestinian Authority will become a member of the international body as of April 1.
What happens from here is anybody’s guess. The U.S. has been most vocal in its opposition to the Palestinians joining the ICC, most recently objecting on the grounds that the Palestinian Authority isn’t a sovereign state, and is therefore ineligible to join the court. And while the United States isn’t a member of the ICC (neither is Israel), if war crimes charges are filed against Israel at Abbas’ request, the U.S. government could potentially pull the $400 million in aid given to the Palestinians each year.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.