Hague Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Friday that after the preliminary investigation she opened in 2015, of the possibility of investigating war crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, she believes there are grounds for allegations of such crimes – and that they are.
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Though she did not explicitly state by whom. The plaintiff refrained from opening an investigation immediately, asking the ICC to ratify her authority to open a “full investigation” within 120 days. The plaintiff’s announcement comes just two hours after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit issued his own statement stating that the Hague Tribunal has no authority in Israel.
“Following a thorough, independent and objective assessment of all reliable information available to my Office, the preliminary examination into the Situation in Palestine has concluded with the determination that all the statutory criteria under the Rome Statute (which establishes the ICA’s powers) for the opening of an investigation have been met,” she announced today. “In brief, I am satisfied that (i) war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”
Bensouda wrote that “Based on the available information, there is a reason to believe that war crimes were committed in the context of the 2014 hostilities in Gaza.” She referring to Operation Protective Edge, which was launched after regional tensions came to a head following the murder of three Israeli teens and Palestinian youth, as well as ceaseless rocket fire from the Strip.
However, as stated, Bensouda did not choose to open an investigation immediately, as the Palestinians have applied to the tribunal. “I asked for confirmation that the ‘territory’ in which the tribunal can exercise its authority, and where I can focus my investigation, includes the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.” She said such a determination is needed for her to decide what the scope of the investigation will be and for what areas it will apply.
The plaintiff did not have to seek the opinion of the tribunal, but chose to do so – and this gives Israel a time to try to change the move, with the assistance of the US.
Following the plaintiff’s request for an opinion, anyone who considers himself related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has the option to appeal within 120 days, to the tribunal.
The meaning, however, is bad for Israel. After years of investigation by the prosecutor, there is a real possibility of opening an investigation against Israel for alleged war crimes. Such an investigation may include not only Israel’s military activity, but also governmental measures taken by the government regarding settlements.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly issued a condemnation: “This is a black day for truth and justice. Turning the International Court of Justice into a political weapon in the fight against Israel. We want to turn Jews living in Palestine, in their homeland, into a war crime. It’s absurd. We are fighting for our rights and the truth. “Historically, in every way possible, the International Criminal Court prosecutor apparently decided not to dismiss the Palestinian petition against the State of Israel out of hand. It’s a scandalous, baseless decision.”
Netanyahu added that the court “has no authority” to discuss the matter. According to Netanyahu, “the court has the authority to discuss only when it comes to claims filed by sovereign states. But there has never been a Palestinian state.” He added that “the plaintiff completely ignored the serious legal grounds we presented to her. She also ignores the truth and history when she says it is a war crime that Jews live in their homeland, the Bible land, our ancestral land. We will not look and bow our heads to this injustice. We will continue to fight it with all the tools at our disposal. ”
On the other hand, the Palestinians welcomed the plaintiff’s statement. The PLO Executive Secretary, Saeb Erekat, said it was “a positive and encouraging step that brings Palestine closer to launching a criminal investigation into the war crimes committed, and ending the immunity of the perpetrators of the crimes, as well as contributing to their prevention until justice is achieved.” “It emphasizes its position on its authority to examine the ongoing crimes committed by Israeli occupation forces in Palestine. This is a final step toward launching a criminal investigation. It is a message of hope for our people that the investigation of justice is possible.”
Just hours before the prosecutor’s conclusions were published in Hague, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit published his own opinion, rejecting the claim that it had the authority to investigate what was happening in the territories in which Israel holds. Among other things, Mandelblit noted: “Only sovereign states can grant criminal jurisdiction to the tribunal. The Palestinian Authority, clearly, does not meet the conditions for the existence of a state in accordance with international law and the Rome Convention.”
The court added that “the claim that the Palestinians allegedly joined the Rome Convention cannot serve as a substitute for a substantive test of criminal jurisdiction for the tribunal by a sovereign state with a defined territory.” He said that “valid legal claims regarding the territories the Palestinians purport to give the tribunal authority. Israel and the Palestinians agreed, with the support of the international community, to resolve the dispute between them regarding a future.