U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced today that the Palestinian Authority will become a member of the International Criminal Court as of April 1, Reuters reports. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed the court’s founding charter, the Rome statute, last week and pledged to pursue war crimes charges against Israel if accepted into the international body.
Reuters explains, “Under ICC rules, Palestinian membership would allow the court, based in The Hague, to exercise jurisdiction over war crimes committed by anyone on Palestinian territory, without a referral from the U.N. Security Council. Israel, like the United States, is not a party to the Rome statute, but its citizens could be tried for actions taken on Palestinian land.”
There are practical concerns for Abbas, though. According to U.S. law, American economic aid to the Palestinians—currently $400 million annually—could be pulled if the PA brought charges against Israel through the ICC. Israeli officials said they plan to pressure members of Congress to enforce that law.
The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, called the PA’s ICC bid “counter-productive,” and said in a statement that the move would “badly damage” the atmosphere with Israel. That prediction wasn’t incorrect: The Israeli government froze NIS 500 million (roughly $127 million) in Palestinian tax revenue in response to Abbas’ move to join the ICC. (Palestinian tax money collected by Israel is transferred to PA officials in Ramallah.)
But while Abbas reportedly already filed a war crimes complaint against Israel with the court stemming from this summer’s war in Gaza, there’s no guarantee they’ll have a case. Experts disagree on whether the ICC can—or will—exercise jurisdiction retroactively.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.