Feb 5, 2021 - World

International Criminal Court clears way for Israel war crimes probe

The aftermath of the 2014 war in Gaza. Photo: NurPhoto via Getty Images

A panel of judges from the International Criminal Court on Friday cleared the way for an investigation against Israel and Hamas for alleged war crimes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Why it matters: An ICC prosecutor could now investigate alleged war crimes during the 2014 war in Gaza, as well as the construction of West Bank settlements by Israel.

The backstory: The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, had asked the judges to determine whether she had jurisdiction to investigate "the situation in Palestine."

  • The ICC has jurisdiction only in states that are party to the Rome Statute, which Israel itself is not.
  • So the jurisdiction question boiled down to whether Palestine should be considered a state. In a 2-1 decision, the judges ruled that it should be, and that the investigation could therefore proceed.

Flashback: Bensouda announced the potential investigation in December 2019, and Israel and the Trump administration immediately began attempting to mobilize opposition to try to convince the judges to block it.

  • The Trump administration also announced sanctions against Bensouda and threatened to sanction the judges. Israeli officials don't think it's a coincidence that the judges waited to announce their decision until President Biden assumed office.

Driving the news: The decision was published on Friday evening while the Israeli government was shut down for Shabbat. Israeli officials were furious not only about the decision but also the timing. 

What they're saying:

"The ICC decision... is a victory for right, justice, freedom and moral values in the world."
— Palestinian minister for civilian affairs Hussein al-Sheikh
"The ICC proved again it is a political body and not a legal body. The ICC disregards real war crimes and is persecuting Israel — a democracy who embraces rule of law and who is not a member of the court. We will continue defending our citizens and soldiers from legal persecution." 
— Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

What's next: The decision goes back to Bensouda, who will have to decide how she wants to proceed.

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