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Palestinian Authority Joins International Criminal Court

Seeks ‘justice not vengeance’ in pursuing war crimes charges against Israel

Stephanie Butnick
April 01, 2015
International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. (Wikimedia Commons)
International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. (Wikimedia Commons)

April 1 is here, which means the Palestinian Authority has officially been made a member of the International Criminal Court. The application for membership was accepted over the objections of countries like the United States (which isn’t a member of the ICC), which contended the PA isn’t a sovereign state and is therefore ineligible to join the international body.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s move to join the ICC in December followed a U.N. Security Council vote against a proposal that sought to establish a sovereign Palestinian state. At the time Abbas expressed his intention, if accepted into the court, to seek war crimes charges against Israel related to the summer 2014 Gaza war. Following Abbas’s signing of the ICC’s founding charter, the Rome Statute, in January, the court opened a preliminary inquiry, which was described as standard practice upon received a complaint.

The AP reports that after a ceremony Wednesday welcoming the Palestinian Authority into the court, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said, “In the face of the great injustice our people are enduring and the repeated crimes committed against it, Palestine has decided to seek justice, not vengeance.”

Justice, for the PA, still includes war crimes charges—Malki added they would push for a formal investigation if the initial probe took too long (ICC probes, by their nature and scope, can take years). But the implications of any such charges, which would be retroactive and therefore more difficult for the court to approve, are unclear. Israel isn’t a member of the ICC, and doesn’t recognize its jurisdiction. In response to the PA’s move to join the court, Israel froze NIS 500 million (roughly $127 million) in tax revenue typically transferred to Ramallah. (They unfroze the funds last week.) Beyond that, if the PA brought war crimes charges against Israel, the U.S. could pull its $400 million in annual aid currently given to the Palestinians.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.