The International Criminal Court on Tuesday rejected a bid by the Palestinian Authority to clear the way for the permanent war crimes tribunal to investigate the 2008 Gaza conflict.
The long-awaited written ruling by Luis Moreno-Ocampo represents a setback to Palestinians' campaign for international recognition as an independent state.
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The Palestinian Authority unilaterally recognized the court's jurisdiction in January 2009 and prosecutors have been mulling ever since whether to accept that recognition, the first step in a process that could have finished with Israel being investigated for possible war crimes.
Under the court's founding treaty, the Rome Statute, only internationally recognized states can join the court. Prosecutors listened to lawyers supporting the Palestinian bid and Israel's rejection of it before reaching Tuesday's decision.
IAF strike in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead (Photo: AP)
In a statement, the prosecutor said it is up to "relevant bodies at the United Nations" or the group of nations that makes up the court to determine whether Palestinians can sign up to the Rome Statute.
The court can only launch investigations if asked by the UN Security Council or an involved state that has recognized the court. Israel has never recognized its jurisdiction.
Human rights groups accused Israel of committing war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, alleging that the IDF fired white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas during its war with Hamas.
Human Rights Watch called for an international investigation into allegations of war crimes by both Israel and Hamas.
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement following the ruling: "Israel has noted the ICC's ruling saying that at this time, The Hague will not hear any of the complaints filed by the PA. Israel has made it clear from the very beginning that the court has no jurisdiction over the matter.
"The matter has been dealt with by interministerial teams, lead by the Justice and Foreign ministries, in collaboration with other elements.
"While Israel welcomes the ruling, it still has reservations as to some of the legal statements made by the prosecuter."
NGO Monitor, an Israeli watchdog that focuses on non-governmental organizations critical of Israel, hailed the ruling as "a strong rebuke" to rights groups who had lobbied on behalf of the Palestinian bid.
"International arenas are routinely hijacked for political purposes, but today's decision was markedly different," said Anne Herzberg, legal adviser for NGO Monitor.
Amnesty: Ruling is dangerous
Amnesty International slammed the ICC's "dangerous" ruling, saying that it impedes justice for the Palestinian and Israeli victims of the 2008 violence.
Marek Marczynski, the human rights group's campaign manager on international justice, asserted that the ruling opens the court up for bias charges, and accused the prosecutor of deflecting the responsibility for the alleged violations to other bodies.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman lauded the work of his own ministry as well as that of the Justice Ministry and the Military Advocate General, which he suggested led to the ruling.
"Few understand how much work went into this issue," he said.
"We kept it far from the media. The Justice Ministry and the Military Advocate General have done well, but there is no doubt that the Foreign Ministry's staff acted in the most professional and discrete manner – exactly as it was done with the Palmer Commission, the Goldstone Commission and the political tsunami that has since dissipated," he said, referring to the Palestinian statehood bid.
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