Palestinians welcome ICC decision to open war crimes inquiry

Israel considers boycotting inquiry and vows to fight decision

A Palestinian man walks past a mural of journalists killed in the conflict between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City, on Thursday. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

A Palestinian man walks past a mural of journalists killed in the conflict between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City, on Thursday. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

 

The Palestinians have welcomed the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories but Israel has reacted furiously and is considering boycotting the inquiry.

The investigation will look at events in the territories from June 13th, 2014, onwards, and will likely focus on the Gaza war fought between Israel and Hamas in the summer of 2014, actions by the Israeli army during the weekly protests along the Gaza fence in 2018 addressing Palestinians claims that Israel fired indiscriminately on unarmed civilians, and Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank.

Israel’s biggest fear is that hundreds of soldiers and officials may be issued with international arrest warrants. Israel hopes to prevent army officers and political officials from being indicted thanks to the country’s respected law enforcement agencies and judiciary, both of which enjoy independence and have tackled allegations of war crimes, resulting in a few cases in disciplinary action taken against soldiers.

The ICC prosecutor may choose to close incidents of conflict already investigated by Israel. However, the question of settlement activity is another matter, bearing in mind the broad international consensus that the settlements are illegal.

The Palestinian leadership considered the ICC decision a significant and rare diplomatic victory and one that was long overdue.

“The crimes committed by the leaders of the Israeli occupation against the Palestinian people – which are ongoing, systematic and widespread – make this investigation necessary and urgent,” said Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki.

The Islamist Hamas, which controls Gaza, welcomed the decision as “step forward on the path of achieving justice”, while defending its own actions as “legitimate resistance”.

‘Outrageous decision’

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel will fight against the decision.

“I think this is an outrageous decision,” he told Fox News on Thursday. “It goes against the one democracy in the Middle East. They don’t put on trial Syria or Iran. This is pure anti-Semitism. This is an affront for all democracies.” He vowed to fight against this “perversion of justice until it is null and void”.

Washington joined Israel in opposing the investigation, dashing Palestinian hopes that the Biden administration would take a more balanced position than the staunchly pro-Israel line shown during the Trump presidency.

“The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the court’s jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel,” secretary of state Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Rising tension between Israel and the Palestinians connected to the inquiry is also likely to impede US efforts to renew diplomatic contacts between the sides.