AMMAN: A Palestinian request for The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes has moved a step closer to being met.
A statement on Monday signed by ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, showed a tacit acceptance of Palestine’s explanation that its annulment of the Oslo Accords had not changed the referral in terms of jurisdiction.
Bensouda confirmed that the territory over which the court could exercise its legal powers comprised the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza.
Shawan Jabarin, director of the Ramallah-based Al-Haq human rights organization, told Arab News: “By clarifying the issue of territory and agreeing to the importance of expediting the process, the ICC decision has accepted all the Palestinian requests.”
Lawyer and former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team Diana Buttuv said: “The letter of the prosecutor in response to a request by the court to verify the status of the Palestinian-Israeli Declaration of Principles (Oslo Accords) is exactly what Palestinians and the international community have been repeatedly insisting on.”
Ahmad Deek, director general of the office of the Palestinian foreign minister, welcomed the ICC ruling and told Arab News: “We want the pre-trial chamber of the ICC to expedite its response to the prosecutor so that investigation in the crimes of the occupiers including the crime of annexation can be ruled upon.”
Israel, which is not a member of the Rome Statute treaty that established the ICC, has not responded to the request by the pre-trial chamber on the issue but has been pushing members close to it to try and derail the process.
The Jerusalem Post reported that “a brief filed by the Czech Republic supporting Israel, the argument was that the Oslo Accords give Israel exclusive jurisdiction over criminal issues in the West Bank relating to Israel, proving that there is no ‘state of Palestine’ to send a case to the ICC.”
Jabarin predicted that an answer from the pre-trial chamber to the question of jurisdiction would be issued soon.
“While Israel has been given until June 24 to answer, I expect that the pre-trial chamber will agree to the prosecutor’s position that the court can exercise its entire jurisdiction on areas of the West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem, thus giving the go-ahead for the ICC prosecutor to begin investigating the referral by the state of Palestine on Israel’s war crimes.”
Palestine, which was recognized as a member of the ICC in April 2015, had made the referral to the ICC in 2018 and the court had accepted it.
Bensouda had announced her intent to move forward against Israel, and possibly Hamas, for war crimes but had asked for a clarification on the issue of jurisdiction on Dec. 20, from the ICC pre-trial chamber.
Article 47 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention guarantees that the provisions of the agreement are not compromised even if annexation took place.
“Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in any case, or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the present convention by any change introduced, as the result of the occupation of a territory, into the institutions or government of the said territory, nor by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the occupying power, nor by any annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory,” the article said.