JERUSALEM (AP) — Days after winning upgraded status at the United Nations, the Palestinians are threatening to join the world’s first permanent war crimes court and pursue charges against the Israelis.
Although the Palestinians say that any decision is still a long ways off, the mere threat has unnerved Israel. But pressing a case may not be so simple and could potentially leave the Palestinians themselves vulnerable to prosecution.
Since winning recognition as a nonmember observer state in the United Nations General Assembly last week, the Palestinians believe they now qualify for membership in the International Criminal Court.
In opposing the Palestinian bid at the U.N., Israel repeatedly cited Palestinian threats to turn to the ICC to prosecute Israeli officials for a variety of alleged crimes, ranging from actions by the Israeli military to Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements on occupied land.
While Israel does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and believes its own actions do not violate international law, officials are concerned legal action that could embarrass Israel, make it difficult for Israeli officials to travel overseas or portray the country as a pariah state. A war crimes conviction can include fines and maximum penalties of life in prison.
With this in mind, a senior Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath, spoke of possible ICC action over Israel’s tough response to the U.N. bid. Israel immediately cut off $100 million in tax transfers to the Palestinians and announced plans to build thousands of new homes in West Bank settlements.
“By continuing these war crimes of settlement activities on our lands and stealing our money, Israel is pushing and forcing us to go to the ICC,” Shaath said late Monday.
On the surface, the Palestinians appear to have a strong case against Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim the two areas, as well as the Gaza Strip, for their future state.
The U.N. resolution last week recognized a Palestinian state in all three territories, captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but continues to control access in and out of the area.
The U.N. resolution appeared to repudiate the Israeli position that the West Bank and east Jerusalem are “disputed” territories and effectively condemned Israeli settlements in the areas,