On Wednesday 7th January, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed the Rome Statute to become part of the International Criminal Court. On Thursday he asked the ICC to investigate war crimes supposedly committed by Israel. The ICC was formed in 1998, in order to investigate genocide and crimes against humanity. These allegations are likely to focus on the 50-day-war in Gaza last year, in which 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis died, and more than two-thirds of Palestinian casualties were considered to be civilians according to the UN.
However, the ability of the Court to prosecute these allegations is doubtful. The problems the ICC will face in launching an investigation are twofold: the alliance of Israel and the USA in the UN Security Council will prove problematic, due to the latter’s power to terminate any ICC investigation.
Also, it will come up against the immutable, stumbling block of Palestine’s controversial national identity. If Palestine is not a state, then it cannot join the ICC. Yet, if the ICC declares it a state, then they must draw up geographical territories. The territorial debate between Palestine and Israel has spanned more than sixty years, several internal wars and various UN resolutions, all of which proved ineffective in ending the conflict.
This centres on the dual claim of both nations to the Gaza strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Most countries consider the spread of Jewish territories into these areas as illegal, because it contravenes UN resolutions 242 and 338. These resolutions have not prevented the Israeli occupation, nor their formation of a ‘security fence’ which Israel claims protect its citizens, simultanously annexing land recognised as Palestinian. This territorial controversy deems it unlikely the ICC will be able to accept Palestine’s investigation.
Furthermore, international responses to a potential ICC investigation offer further obstacles. Many US senators and government administrators have warned the Palestinian Authority that attempts to instigate an ICC investigation over alledged Israeli war crimes will be ‘strongly opposed’ (Chuck Schumer and Mark Kirk).
Another complication likely to prevent allegations gaining ground is the Israeli response. Israel has frozen funds gathered from Palestinian tax payers, which was intended to be transferred to the PA on Friday. This will leave the Palestinian Authority unable to pay thousands of salaries, a move condemned as ‘Israeli piracy’ by a Palestinian official (Ynet).
Rather than a step forward, Palestine has taken a step backwards. The PA has never been closer to collapsing than immediately after it joined an organisation designed to protect its national rights.
The difficulties faced by the ICC exemplify the cessation of international laws in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel is part of the UN and claims to be a democracy, yet its actions cannot even be investigated. For Palestine, joining the ICC is unlikely to redress any wrongs. Rather it has elevated one essential fact: that the entire population of the Gaza strip, some 1.8 million people, has lost the ability to complain.