Sunday, 18 January 2015
It has been reported recently that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has made a bid to join the Rome Statute and thus recognise and be recognised by the International Criminal Court, and that this move has been recognised and affirmed by the U.N. general secretary, who have stated that the State of Palestine will join ICC by April 1 this year. ICC itself has welcomed this move by the PA as being consistent with the ICC's general striving to make the Rome Statute and the ICC universally recognised as a legitimate international legal institution. As an immediate effect, the ICC has opened a preliminary investigation of war crimes committed in the Israel occupied Palestinian territories since June 13, 2014 – as that is the date from which the PA has accepted ICC jurisdiction in its ratification of the Rome Statute (see also here and here).
As before, Israel and the USA has reacted strongly against this sort of development (see here and here). The basic point of the rhetoric this time is that it is a "tragic irony", that Israel or Israeli forces possibly might be found guilty of war crimes when Israel and Israelis have in the past been victims of terror attacks. As I have commented on similar responses from Israel and USA before, however, this is wholly hollow words. First of all, none of these states have ratified the Rome Statute, and thus do not recognise the ICC in the first place – what is more, both states have actively withdrawn former intentions to recognise the ICC (here, here), thus clearly declaring that they do not, repeat not, belong to this particular club in international politics. But this also means, that they have no say whatsoever on ICC policy - that is the choice you make when not becoming a member. Both the US and Israel could have ratified the Rome Statute, in Israel's case this used to be the intention until 2002, and thus have the court probe whatever terror activity of other states instigated against them. They have however, voluntary chosen not to, so whatever "irony" is present here is of purely Israeli and US manufacture. To this may be added, that these choices most likely were made to able to "get away with" violent actions on foreign (or occupied) soil.
Moreover, this criticism fails to recognise the elementary fact that the PA move will also mean that any action from Palestinian territories towards Israel will be open to prosecution. This aspect has been deliberately blinkered by the Israeli government propaganda before as well. That is, to the extent that there are war crimes being committed towards Israel from PA territory, these are now – thanks to the PA bid to join ICC – possible to prosecute under international law. In other words, Israel cannot validly argue that this expansion of ICC jurisdiction is a one-sided action against Israel. What does remain, of course, is that Israel is unable to demand that ICC prosecutors open investigations into such things, since Israel has actively chosen to stand outside the ICC. But, then again, this situation could be easily remedied if only the Israeli government chose to reverse its past withdrawal and ratify the Rome Statute.
So much for rhetoric and propaganda. But how should the present development be assessed from the standpoint of someone who desires increased stability, peace and justice for the people burdened by the seemingly never ending conflict in this region? My own assessment, for the time being, is this: The bid of the PA to join ICC is a good thing, as it puts pressure on the violent extremists on both sides to temper their actions, and on both states to actively restrict the ability of these groups to keep on to sabotage the peace process – and fuel the support of each other. This will also mean that political movements such as Hamas and its more or less openly aligned violent branches, will have to chose a more moderate political course, or face the force of international justice – this will go for, e.g. the Likud party in Israel and the various religious fundamentalist extreme right wing groups allied with it as well. It is obvious that all of these groups have self-interested reasons to resist the current course of development – much of their support arises out of a reality where violence prevails and both sides can point to each other as the rationale for their own excesses. This also goes for their respective financial bases – the dignitaries of each of these political organisations living comfortably thanks to the prolonged and deepened violent conflict, while the overwhelming majority of people on both sides suffers the consequences. My own hope is that, when spirits have settled down a bit in Israel – as it may do also due the obvious counter-productivity and self-destructiveness of the current policy – its government chooses to join the ICC as well, further strengthening the bonds holding back extremist violence while also restricting its own actions in the occupied territories. That would, indeed, be a wide step forward for anyone interested in sustainable peace and the interests of ordinary people in the region.