International Criminal Court rules its jurisdiction includes Palestine

Monday, February 8, 2021

The International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled on Friday its territorial jurisdiction extends into the areas of Palestine, evoking objections from Israeli and U.S. officials.

Judges said the 2-1 decision was based on Palestine's membership to its founding treaty, the Rome Statute, but said the court is not ruling on the statehood of the disputed territory, nor its borders. In a 60-page legal brief, the court claimed its "territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine [...] extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem".

Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda expressed approval for the ruling's "judicial clarity", but said "[t]he Office is currently analysing this decision & will then decide its next step guided strictly by its independent and impartial mandate". Bensouda in December 2019 said "war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip", naming both the Israeli Defence Forces and Palestinian revolutionary group Hamas as potential perpetrators.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh praised the ruling as "a victory for justice and humanity". Hamas also praised the ruling, as did the Palestinian Foreign Ministry and international organisation Human Rights Watch.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the decision as one of hypocrisy and said "[w]hen the ICC investigates Israel for fake war crimes, this is pure anti-Semitism." In a videotaped statement, he claimed "we will fight this perversion of justice with all our might!"

Israel also accuses the international tribunal of injudiciously ruling on matters of politics and said jurisdiction cannot be extended to borders it claims has yet to be decided in peace talks. The Israeli military has systems in place to prevent misconduct, which systems have been criticised in the past as insufficient.

The United States also objected. State Department spokesman Ned Price said, in spite of President Joe Biden's promises to mend relations with Palestine the government was opposed not only to Friday's ruling but to Palestine being deemed a member of the Rome Statute at all.

In a statement, Price reiterated "As we made clear when the Palestinians purported to join the Rome Statute in 2015, we do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state, and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state, or participate as a state in international organisations, entities, or conferences, including the ICC [...] the court’s jurisdiction should be reserved for countries that consent to it, or that are referred by the UN Security Council."

Both Israel and the United States have signed, but not ratified, the Rome Statute. They do not recognise the court's jurisdiction.

The Israeli government was widely condemned amongst the international community for constructing settlements in disputed territory — where some 700,000 people now live.