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The ICC’s decision presents a last chance to save Israel from itself

Israeli security forces fire at Palestinians during a demonstration in Ramallah, West Bank, on 23 July 2017 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]
Israeli security forces fire at Palestinians during a demonstration in Ramallah, West Bank, on 23 July 2017 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

Israel has, rather revealingly, admitted that it has committed war crimes against the Palestinians by arguing that the International Criminal Court in The Hague has no jurisdiction for such crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories. The argument cannot hide the number of war crimes and crimes against humanity that Israel has committed, nor the fact that it continues to do so.

If the ICC felt able to put Serb leaders on trial for their crimes in Bosnia, it should try terrorist Israeli leaders, despite the influence of the pro-Israel lobby and its vocal opposition to any accountability for the colonial occupation state. Such a trial may take place, given that ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced a few days ago the possibility of opening an investigation into Israel’s war crimes in the West Bank, including occupied Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

Bensouda said that there is a reasonable basis to justify looking into allegations of crimes but held back on an immediate investigation. Instead, she has called on the ICC judges to confirm within 120 days her jurisdiction and authority to conduct such an investigation.

Meanwhile, Israel’s “confession” came in a statement from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a few hours before the ICC Prosecutor’s decision was made public: “The principled legal position of the State of Israel, which is not a party to the ICC, is that the Court lacks jurisdiction in relation to Israel and that any Palestinian actions with respect to the Court are legally invalid.” He added that, “Only sovereign states can delegate criminal jurisdiction to the court and the Palestinian Authority did not meet the criteria for statehood under international law and the Court’s founding statute.” Mandelblit thus did not deny that Israel has committed war crimes, he merely focused on the issue of whether or not the ICC has the authority to prosecute the Zionist state.

READ: Accountability, culpability to achieve justice for Palestine

The ICC Prosecutor has taken five years to come up with this move. What has prompted her to do so now, before she leaves the Court next year?

In the occupation state, they believe that her statement at this stage — which caused a tremor among the ruling elite — was prompted by the Israeli government’s stated intention to annex the Jordan Valley, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim that Israeli settlements are not inconsistent with international law. According to Bensouda, there is a reasonable basis for believing that war crimes were committed in Palestine in the form of: Israel’s construction of settlements and transfer of its own citizens to the settlements. The alleged targeting of civilians by both the Israel Defence Forces, as well as Palestinian resistance groups, will also come under investigation.

Trump doesn't care about International Law and makes illegal settlements legal - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Trump doesn’t care about International Law and makes illegal settlements legal – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

According to predictions by international law experts, charges may be laid against the heads of the IDF since 2014 — Generals Benny Gantz, Gadi Eizenkot and Aviv Kochavi — as well as senior officers and the current and past heads of the intelligence agencies, including Nadav Argaman and Yoran Cohen. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and head of the Ministry of Defence Naftali Bennett could be indicted, as may housing ministers responsible for construction in the settlements. The so-called Israeli Civil Administration in the occupied West Bank will also be implicated. This is the occupation’s governing body in the Palestinian territories.

The ICC will undoubtedly issue subpoenas or arrest warrants as it deems fit. There is equally no doubt that Israel will not cooperate with the Court and will not allow its citizens to face questioning. However, the state will take the precaution of not allowing possible suspects to travel abroad, as all countries which are signatories to the Rome Statute, which gives the ICC its authority, will be obliged to hand them over to The Hague.

The Israeli occupation has been brutal in its ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people both openly and in secret. Arab leaders well accustomed to treachery know this. Perhaps the ICC decision is the last chance to save Israel from itself; it is a thuggish state that acts with impunity. This cannot last forever, nor can the international community’s collusion. The ICC can instil a sense of propriety into proceedings and bring the Israelis to their senses. If it doesn’t, then Israel and its senior officials are likely to suffer the same fate as all fugitives running from justice: they will be caught, and they will be punished.

READ: Will the ICC actually hold Israel to account over war crimes?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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