The “State of Palestine” will accede Wednesday to the International Criminal Court. This move is likely to further undermine the already-stagnant peace process, but it has few practical implications for Israel.
The Palestinian Authority is slated to accede to the International Criminal Court on Wednesday. Joining the ICC is the latest in a series of unilateral steps taken by the PA to achieve de facto statehood without having to make peace with Israel. The PLO has indicated that it would bring a complaint against Israel to the court on the day of its accession.
The PA applied to join the ICC following a failed statehood bid at the UN. On December 31, PA President Mahmoud Abbas signed a document accepting ICC jurisdiction “for the purpose of identifying, prosecuting and judging…war crimes” committed on Palestinian territory. A week later, the PA’s application was accepted by the ICC. Palestinian accession to the Treaty of Rome, the ICC’s founding document, was scheduled for April 1.
On January 16, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced a preliminary investigation into “the situation in Palestine.” The Israeli government responded to the ICC bid by suspending the repatriation of tax revenues, worsening the PA’s perpetual budget woes. At the beginning of March, senior PLO official Mohammed Shtayyeh indicated that the organization would bring a complaint against Israel on April 1 for alleged war crimes in Gaza and settlement construction.
Potential Fallout from the ICC Accession
Palestinian accession to the ICC could severely hamper the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by pre-determining the issues under negotiation. For example, the ICC refers to the Palestinian territories as the State of Palestine despite the fact that the peace process was set up to recognize a Palestinian state only in return for peace with Israel. The ICC does not have jurisdiction over the State of Israel, which, like the United States, is not a signatory to the Treaty of Rome. However, the ICC will be able to prosecute Israeli citizens, including members of the IDF, for alleged war crimes committed on Palestinian territory. Implicitly, this means that the ICC will set borders for the State of Palestine, even though borders are considered one of the core issues of the peace process.
The Palestinians’ actual complaints against Israel are not likely to have significant results. Once a complaint is lodged with the ICC, it takes several years for an investigation to be conducted. The major difference between non-membership and membership in the ICC is that the Court is required to take complaints by members more seriously. Member states can also force the Court to consider re-opening closed preliminary investigations.