Why Palestine Should Join The International Criminal Court

By Atif Shamim Syed

The breakdown of the latest round of peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians came about on March 28, 2014 when the former deliberately failed to release the last batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners as stipulated in the original terms for the negotiations. The same terms restricted the Palestinians from signing up for international conventions. After the Israeli violation of the terms, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, having absolved of his obligation, went ahead and signed up for 15 international conventions. Moreover, having been strengthened by the recent reconciliation between Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinians are contemplating joining the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.).

The Palestinians applied for the membership of the I.C.C. in April 2013 but their request was declined on the pretext that Palestine was not a state. This excuse is no more valid since the United Nations recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state in November last year effectively changing its legal status.

Now, Palestinians can legally join the I.C.C, a fact that is unnerving the Israelis since the move will enable the international court to prosecute war crimes committed after July 1, 2002, in Palestine.

The International criminal court was created by the Rome Statute which came into effect on July 01, 2002. The court is situated in The Hague but its proceedings can be carried out anywhere in the world. The I.C.C. can prosecute individuals for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. However, it can only exercise its jurisdiction when national courts are unable to prosecute a crime.

Several International human rights organizations are urging Mr. Mahmoud Abbas to join the International court immediately so that Israel can be held responsible for attacking civilians and expanding settlements in the occupied territories. However, it is not clear whether Mr. Abbas will be able to muster enough courage to deal with frantic US and Israeli opposition to such a move.

This is a historic opportunity for the Palestinians for reaping the benefits of becoming an observer state in the United Nations. Palestine’s membership of the I.C.C. will subject Israel’s criminal activities in the occupied territories, to international laws. It will also offer a highly reputed international platform for gathering support for the Palestinian cause.

When the second Palestinian intifada or uprising broke out in late September 2000, Israel’s army deliberately violated the laws of war with complete impunity. It dropped heavy bombs on densely populated areas of Gaza and subjected Palestinian neighborhoods to artillery fire. Moreover, Israel’s military lawyers invented their own twisted versions of International law in order to justify aggression on a defenseless populace. Clashes with Palestinians were termed “armed conflicts” by Israel rather than the violent actions of an occupier. The ‘armed conflict’ terminology facilitated using heavy weaponry against civilian population of Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinians also plan to sign up to the Fourth Geneva Convention which identifies the need to protect civilians during an armed conflict. This also applies to the Israeli violence perpetrated against Palestinians and the theft of their land.

Israel’s illegal settlement policy in the occupied territories is a clear violation of the provisions of the Fourth Geneva convention which prohibits such settlements. The International Criminal Court considers violations of the Geneva Conventions as war crimes.

There are around 250 illegal Israeli settlements with a population of more than 500,000. Israel has used its settlement policy along with its control of water in order to uproot Palestinians from their lands. Several rounds of negotiations, peace talks and even begging with the US to put pressure on its ally, have failed to bear fruit. On the contrary, US-mediated negotiations over the past two decades have always been based on the Israeli perspective and its priorities, providing it with the opportunity to expand its settlements and thus, alter the facts on the ground to its own advantage.

The breakdown of the latest round of peace negotiations has rendered it absolutely necessary for the Palestinians to try and pressure Israel into reversing its course in the occupied territories by all other means at their disposal. This also includes joining the I.C.C. so that the international tribunal can address genuine Palestinian grievances. The I.C.C. can effectively put an end to the immunity enjoyed by Israel as it commits one crime after another under the protective umbrella of its own legal innovations.