International Criminal Court Examining ‘Legal Implications’ of Palestinian Authority Statehood Bid

The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) prosecutor’s office said on Friday it was considering the legal implications after the UN General Assembly’s overwhelming vote to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a non-member state.

“The Office of the Prosecutor takes note of the decision” and will now “consider the legal implications of this resolution,” it said in a statement sent to AFP but declined to elaborate.

In 2009, the PA asked the ICC prosecutor’s office to investigate alleged war crimes committed by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

However, only a state can launch such a request under international law, which is why former prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo earlier this year decided to leave it up to the “competent organs of the United Nations” to decide whether or not the PA was a state.

Now that the UN resolution has passed, noted AFP, the PA may ratify the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute. That could open the door for an investigation, despite intense pressure by countries including the U.S., Britain and France to desist.

Before the vote in the UN, France warned the PA against taking action against Israel in the ICC should it be granted upgraded status.

“Speaking purely of the law, from the moment there is a recognition of a state, even as a non-member and observer, it would have the possibility of referring such-and-such a state to the court,” France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

“However if we want to move toward negotiations and find a solution, it is obvious that elements should not be used”, he added.

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Independent from the UN, the Hague-based court can prosecute individuals guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but only in countries that have ratified the Rome Statute, or countries which recognizes its authority.

As in the case of Libya last year, an investigation can also be opened through a UN Security Council referral.

While a Security Council referral for an investigation remains remote since the United States would likely veto the decision, there are two other possible routes to a probe.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda may decide to ask ICC judges to authorize a probe, or an ICC member country may refer a situation to the prosecutor and ask her to investigate.

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas indicated on Friday that his people would refer Israel to the ICC only in a case of “aggression” by the Jewish state.

“Going to the ICC is now our right, but we are not going to do it now, and we will not do it, except in the case of aggression” by Israel, he told reporters in New York, according to AFP.

Palestinian Authority leaders threatened this week they would petition the ICC if an investigation finds proof that late PLO head Yasser Arafat was poisoned.

“If it is proved that Arafat was poisoned, we will go to the international court,” said Tawfiq Tirawi, head of the PA commission investigating Arafat’s death, referring to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“We will wait for the results of the investigation,” he said. “We are not accusing anyone so far but regardless of the result, we will continue looking for the truth about how he died.”

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Arafat died at a French military hospital near Paris in November 2004 at the age of 75, with experts unable to say what killed him. Many Arabs believe he was poisoned by Israel.

Some Israelis have expressed concern that the PA investigation points to a plan to frame Israel for Arafat’s death.

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