ICC opens inquiry into possible war crimes in Palestinian territories

Smoke rises following what witnesses said were Israeli air strikes in Gaza August 23, 2014.(Reuters / Ahmed Zakot)
The International Criminal Court in the Hague has opened a “preliminary examination” of possible war crimes conducted on Palestinian territory during the last year's military conflict with Israel in Gaza.

A preliminary examination is the first step in the court’s legal process, and evaluates whether a full investigation is necessary.

In a statement released on the ICC website, its Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda promised that her office “will conduct its analysis in full independence and impartiality,” mentioning that no deadline has been set for announcing the results of the investigation.

Although the court may address fundamental issues, such as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories following the 1967 war, the examination is likely to home on in on specific violations during the IDF incursion into Gaza last summer, in which more than 2,000 Palestinians, and 60 Israelis died.

"The case is now in the hands of the court," Nabil Abuznaid, head of the Palestinian delegation in The Hague, told Reuters. "It is a legal matter now and we have faith in the court system."

Israel has lashed out at the proposed examination, calling the fast-track decision "scandalous."

“This same court which after more than 200,000 deaths didn’t see fit to intervene in what was taking place in Syria or in Libya or in other places now finds it worthwhile to ‘examine’ the most moral army in the world,” said foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman in a statement.

Reuters / Jerry Lampen

“This decision entirely stems from anti-Israel political considerations.”

The United States said it “strongly opposes” Palestine's move to join the ICC. Jeffrey Rathke, a State Department spokesman, said it is “counterproductive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state."

The ICC request "badly damages the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace,” Rathke said.

The Palestinian Authority will officially join the ICC on April 1, while Israel is not a member.

READ MORE: Netanyahu: Israel 'won't let its soldiers be dragged' to ICC

Israel and the US have vehemently protested Palestine's accession, claiming it will embroil the sides in a potential decades-long legal battle, and stall a negotiated diplomatic solution. Jerusalem has suspended $125 million in monthly financial transfers to the PA to signal its displeasure.

For Palestine, the ICC offers not only the chance to officially address its qualms with Israel's action, but another milestone on the path to full statehood. The move does, however, leave Palestine open to potential attacks on its own war crimes record, including the sponsorship of construction of rockets aimed at Israeli towns, and the use of civilians as human shields for terrorists.