CAIRO: The decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a probe into possible war crimes by Israel against Palestinians is consistent with the tribunal’s system and international law, and “complements an anticipated membership of Palestine at the ICC,” the Arab League said Monday.
Mohamed Sobeih, the Arab League’s Assistant Secretary-General for Palestine and occupied Arab Lands, told reporters that the Palestinian bid is “rightful” as an “overwhelming” majority has recognized Palestine.
“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims that his army is ethical and has not committed any violations. So, why is this fear of joining the ICC?” MENA quoted Sobeih.
After decades of failed negotiations between Palestinian and Israelis, The Palestinian Authority has pursued international recognition in recent years. The United Nations announced Jan. 7 that Palestine will become a member of the ICC in April. Palestine was also accepted as a United Nations non-member observer state in 2012.
In response to the U.N.’s Jan. 7 announcement, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said “the United States does not believe that the state of Palestine qualifies as a sovereign state and does not recognize it as such and does not believe that it is eligible to accede to the Rome Statute.”
Ratifying the Rome Statute, which the U.S. and Israel have not done, despite being signatories, entitles a state to become a member of the ICC.
Palestinians and recognition
In three wars in six years, 3,760 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians, were killed, 18,100 were injured, and more than 80,000 homes were destroyed, Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas said at Gaza Donor Conference in October, adding that the most of the mentioned damage occurred during the latest war on Gaza in summer 2014.
Six Israeli civilians, and 64 soldiers, most who were on Gazan land, were killed during the war, according to the U.N.
“War crimes were committed; hence perpetrators must be punished through [the ICC]. Why this Israeli panic and incomprehensible U.S. stance?” MENA reported Sobeih as saying Monday.
On Jan. 16, the U.S. State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke said the ICC’s decision was “counterproductive to the cause of peace.”
“It is a tragic irony that Israel, which has withstood thousands of terrorist rockets fired at its civilians and its neighborhoods, is now being scrutinized by the ICC,” Rathke said.
“A ‘tragic irony’ that ICC inquiry into possible war crimes in Palestinian Territories criticized by a ‘government of laws not of men,’ Mohamed ElBaradei, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and former Vice President of Egypt, tweeted Sunday, referring to the US statement.
Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird also denounced the decision, saying Monday that Palestinians crossed a “red line” with their ICC bid.
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu preceded the U.S. and Canada’s remarks by calling the decision “scandalous” and “absurd.” While Canada is a member state of the ICC, Israel and the U.S. are not.
“The Palestinian Authority cooperates with Hamas, a terror group that commits war crimes, in contrast to Israel that fights terror while maintaining international law, and has an independent justice system,” Netanyahu said Jan. 17.
Hamas was ordered removed from the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations by the E.U. Court of Justice in December, but the E.U. has decided to appeal the ruling.
After President Abbas filed the now-approved ICC membership request in December, Rathke said his country strongly opposes the request, adding that it was “counterproductive” and creates “doubts” about Palestinians’ “commitment to a negotiated peace.”
The U.S. vetoed full Palestinian statehood at the United Nations earlier in December, although the resolution did not gather the needed number of votes to pass.
Israel halted transfer of tax revenues, which amount to more than $120 million, to Palestinians in January, in reaction to their request to the ICC. Abbas was prompted to visit the Arab League earlier in January to garner financial support.
“Israel punishes Palestinians b/c of request to join ICC. What options do they have when denied statehood, dignity & legal recourse?” ElBaradei tweeted Jan. 4, calling on more Arab countries to join the ICC, as only Tunisia, Jordan and Djibouti are member states.
Israel is lobbying member states of the ICC, namely Canada, Australia, Germany and Japan to cut the funding for the tribunal, Reuters reported Monday. Australia voted against Palestinian statehood at the U.N. in December.
The U.S. and Israel lost their UNESCO memberships in 2013 as a result of cutting their funds to the world’s cultural agency in 2011, after it had admitted Palestine as a full member in accordance with a vote the same year. The two countries, along with Germany, Canada and Australia, are among the 14 countries that voted against a Palestinian membership at UNESCO.