The Palestinian Authority's President Mahmoud Abbas signed the papers to join the International Criminal Court a day after it was denied statehood by the UN’s Security Council. The provocative move could draw sanctions from Israel and the United States, as well as expose the Palestinian territories and Israel to an international investigation of war crimes.
On Tuesday, Jordan, acting on the Palestinian Authority's behalf, failed to secure enough votes to pass a motion in the UNSC that would have set a deadline to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. On Wednesday, Abbas ratified the Rome Statute—which governs the International Criminal Court—thereby opening Palestinian Authority territory to ICC investigations. The Hague-based court has jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
It was not immediately clear what the Palestinian Authority would do at the court, and a 60-day waiting period must elapse before it can file any cases. While the court has 122 members, major countries like the United States, China, and India are not participants. Neither is Israel, and there are limits to the body’s power, as The Washington Post reports.
In a sign of the court’s limitations, prosecutors were forced earlier this month to abandon a case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who had been charged with orchestrating a 2007 campaign of ethnic violence. Though Kenya is a member of the court, the government refused to cooperate with the prosecution and blocked investigators from gathering sufficient evidence to continue the case.
Moreover, ICC prosecutors have significant leeway on which investigations they decide to move forward, and an investigation of Israel would face strong political pressure from its allies. The Palestinian Authority's joining could lead to the prosecution of Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes related to Israel’s settlement activity. In 2009, the humanitarian group Human Rights Watch accused Israel of committing war crimes in a 2008-2009 conflict known as “Operation Cast Lead.” The charges included launching missile attacks that killed civilians, the killing of 11 civilians holding white flags, and the use of white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas.