Ex-prosecutor warns Palestinians on turning to the ICC against Israel
If Palestinians accept war crimes court's jurisdiction, Hamas could face investigation for rocket fire, suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, former chief prosecutor says.
AP, The Media Line
A former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Wednesday Palestinians should proceed with caution as they consider pursuing war crimes against Israel.
Since winning upgraded status at the United Nations in 2012, the Palestinians have threatened to turn to the ICC to press charges against Israel at the world's first permanent war crimes court if peace efforts fail. The latest round of talks broke down last month.
Since then, Palestinian officials applied to join United Nations treaties and organizations as a way of increasing international pressure on Israel.
When he was the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo turned down a request by the Palestinians to join the court. But as a nonmember state, they are now eligible, he said. If they accepted its jurisdiction, however, the Palestinians could also be investigated for Hamas rocket attacks and suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.
"The obstacle they had in the past is gone, it is removed," he told The Associated Press. "The best would be if Israelis and Palestinians create a common approach to prevent future activities."
He refused to speculate whether war crimes have been committed by either side. Regardless, he recommended the sides avoid the court and find a "creative" way to resolve their differences.
"Everyone feels they are victims," he said. "If you don't want to be at the ICC, do something before - don't wait."
Israeli analyst and former senior military official Mordechai Kedar said that he thinks the Palestinian Authority intentionally refrained from applying to international organizations which are much more significant and meaningful.
“The Palestinians did not apply to become part of the Rome convention which is the basis of the ICC,” Kedar told The Media Line. “They know they will expose themselves to Israeli lawsuits based on terrorism which they waged against Israel for more than 20 years.”
Kedar also says the "shaky" internal arena for Palestinians has lead to vast problems, such as tensions between the two rival Palestinian groups, Mahdmoud Abbas’s Fatah, and Hamas. The two factions have signed a reconciliation agreement, are currently discussing implementation.
“People in the world think that if they (the PA) are accepted to all kinds of organizations, this will contribute to the feelings of Palestinians that they are one nation. But it does not work this way. You cannot build a nation from top to the bottom. You have to build it bottom up. So far they failed,” said Kedar.
A senior Palestinian official said the move also obligates the Palestinian Authority to investigate its own conduct.
“In the same way we are looking into ways to challenge Israel, we do know that there are items that require from us observation, documentation, revision, correction, and self criticism,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki told The Media Line.
Recently, the Palestinian Authority became a formal party to five international treaties which include banning torture and racial discrimination, as well as protecting the rights of women, children and the disabled.
Al-Malki, who has been the foreign minister for the past seven years, said the Palestinian leadership has set up a permanent national committee to follow up the implications of joining these UN conventions.
“We will study carefully what is required in terms of creating new bodies, develop and improve existing ones, redraft laws, and prepare for annual reports about our adherence to the spirit and letter of such conventions,” he said. “There are items that require attention, modifications or corrections to existing laws or the development of new bodies or departments within the existing official structure of ministries.”
Al-Malki also said the Palestinian Liberation Organization will consult with legal experts “to help us understand what such accession could mean to us in terms of bringing us closer to our national objective” - an end to Israeli control of the West Bank and the creation of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.
“We will be asking for help from friendly countries or friendly individual legal experts who could help us navigate through the signed treaties and conventions,” the Palestinian official told The Media Line.
Some Palestinian analysts disagreed, saying that signing these conventions will not make any real difference in moving forward a Palestinian state.
Emilio Dabed, a Palestinian lawyer who also teaches at al-Quds University, called the signing “meaningless.”
“When you look at the treaties that were signed, they are completely useless in terms of ending the occupation,” Dabed told The Media Line. “The treaties that were signed were inoffensive and they don’t represent any danger to the Israeli occupation. The treaties that could challenge Israeli occupation and make it accountable from an international point of view were not signed.”
He was referring to the International Criminal Court (ICC) which could charge Israeli military officials with war crimes for killing Palestinians. However, Israel could also choose to bring Palestinians to this court.
Dabed said that by signing these treaties and organizations, the Palestinian leadership is not making Israel accountable, but the Palestinian Authority itself.
“Most of the treaties signed, such as women’s rights, are applicable to Palestinians not to Israel,” Dabed said. He also said that when a country signs a convention or a treaty, “it commits the signatory country to respect these treaties, in this case, Palestine,” and that it has "no impact on Israeli human rights violations."
“They (the PA) are forcing themselves to respect these conventions and treaties,” said Dabed.
Dabed said he thinks the PA has not thought the move through.
“The international community could put pressure on Palestinians to respect these treaties (within its own authority),” he said. “They (the PA) could bring to justice Palestinian violators of human rights. Will they do it? Does Palestine need to sign these treaties to do so? If they had the will to do that, they would have done it by bringing the perpetrators to Palestinian courts,” Dabed told The Media Line.
Article written by Abdullah H. Erakat.
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line