Palestinians ask ICC for ‘immediate’ probe against Israel

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Khan Yunis on May 18, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2018

Palestinians ask ICC for ‘immediate’ probe against Israel

THE HAGUE: The Palestinian foreign minister asked the International Criminal Court on Tuesday to open an “immediate investigation” into alleged Israeli “crimes” committed against the Palestinian people.

The step was sure to worsen the already troubled relations between the internationally backed Palestinian Authority and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Peace talks have been frozen for over four years, and contacts between the two sides are minimal.

Speaking to reporters at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands, Foreign Minister Riad Malki said he submitted the “referral” to the court during a meeting with the ICC's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

The referral sought an investigation into Israeli policies in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip since the state of Palestine accepted the ICC's jurisdiction in 2014, he said.

This includes Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as the recent round of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli fire killed over 100 Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border, Malki added.

“There is a culture of impunity in Israel for crimes against Palestinians,” Malki said. “This referral is Palestine's test to the international mechanism of accountability and respect for international law.”

The ICC has been conducting a preliminary probe since 2015 into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, including Israel's settlement policy and crimes allegedly committed by both sides in the 2014 Gaza conflict. Tuesday's referral could speed up a decision on whether to open a full-blown investigation that could ultimately lead to the indictment of high-ranking Israelis.

The move comes with Israeli-Palestinian relations at their lowest point in years in the aftermath of the US Embassy move to Jerusalem and the recent bloodshed on the Gaza border.

Israel has said it was defending its border and accused Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group using the unrest to carry out attempted attacks and of using civilians as human shields.

In response to Tuesday's move at the ICC, Israel said it took a “severe view” of the Palestinian request, calling it a “cynical” and “absurd” step. It accused the Palestinians of violent incitement against Israel and exploiting women and children as human shields. It also said the ICC had no jurisdiction in the case because Israel is not a member of the court.

“Israel expects the ICC and its prosecutor not to yield to Palestinian pressure and stand firm against continued Palestinian efforts to politicize the court and to derail it from its mandate,” the Israeli statement said.

Israel is not a member of the ICC, but its citizens can be charged by the court if they are suspected of committing crimes on the territory or against a national of a country that is a member. The ICC has recognized “Palestine” as a member state.

While the ICC can indict suspects, it has no police force and has to rely on cooperation from member states to enforce arrest warrants.

The Palestinians appear to have an especially strong case in the matter of settlements. In 2004, the United Nations' highest judicial organ, the International Court of Justice, ruled in an advisory opinion that the settlements breached international law.

In late 2016, the UN Security Council also declared the settlements to be illegal.

Over 600,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories sought by the Palestinians as parts of their future state. Israel captured both territories from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.

Under international law it is illegal to transfer populations out of or into occupied territory.

Israel claims east Jerusalem as an inseparable part of its capital — though its annexation is not international recognized.

Israel claims the West Bank is not occupied because it was captured from Jordan, not the Palestinians, and Jordan does not make a claim to the territory.

Since the Palestinians never ruled the West Bank, Israel says this territory is disputed and its final status should be resolved in negotiations. It also claims that settlements can be torn down and therefore do not prejudice the final status of the territory. It notes that in the case of Gaza, for instance, it uprooted all settlements there when it withdrew in 2005. Israel also captured Gaza in the 1967 war.

While the Gaza withdrawal removed some 8,000 settlers, the much larger population in the West Bank and east Jerusalem would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move.


Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

Updated 25 May 2020

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

  • Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile
  • Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara – Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians

ISTANBUL: Israeli airline El Al has resumed cargo flights twice weekly between Tel Aviv and Istanbul for the first time in 10 years — a sign that decade-long bilateral tensions might be easing.
A cargo flight landed in Istanbul on Sunday morning to pick up humanitarian aid and protective equipment destined for US medical teams fighting COVID-19.
Burhanettin Duran, head of the Ankara-based think tank SETA, wrote that Turkey’s regional empowerment is “obliging Israel to search for normalization steps with Ankara.”
Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the cargo flight is a positive and visible development in bilateral relations that was probably approved by top government officials on both sides and required diplomatic efforts.
“However, the fact that this step takes place in parallel to a discussion about Israeli annexation in the West Bank, and to criticism of annexation by regional and international actors, might impact how it’s viewed in Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Goren said while the Israeli and Turkish governments continue to have significant policy differences, they should work to restore their relations to ambassadorial level, and to relaunch a strategic dialogue on regional developments of mutual interest.
“The forming of a new Israeli government, and the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as a new foreign minister, could be an opportunity to do so, and the cargo flight brings some positive momentum,” he added.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in May 2018 after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile, as it also serves the latter’s strategic interests in weakening the Iranian presence in Syria.
But Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians. 
In a video message on Twitter, he said the issue of Jerusalem “is a red line for all Muslims worldwide.”
He added that Israel’s “new occupation and annexation project … disrespects Palestine’s sovereignty and international law.”
Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst at geopolitical-risk firm Stratfor, told Arab News: “Turkey is trying to create economic ties with Israel because … Erdogan is finding the political ground changed, caused in part by demographic changes as young Turks are less incensed by the Palestinian issue, and in part by a general weariness among Turks about putting too much skin in the game to solve the Palestinian question,” 
Israel is expected to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank on July 1 under the terms of a coalition government agreement. Ankara has strongly criticized the plan.
Israeli and Turkish officials are rumored to have held talks behind closed doors to reach a deal on maritime borders and exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean. 
Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently said it was “proud of our diplomatic relations with Turkey.”
But Goren said it is currently unlikely that Israel will advance a maritime demarcation deal with Turkey as it would shake several regional balances at the same time.
“It will put in jeopardy, and run in contrast to, the important alliances in the eastern Mediterranean that Israel has fostered in recent years with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt,” he added.