Over the past few years, the world has been kept on the edge of its seat as the Palestinian Authority tried to tip the scale of the Israeli occupation by having its own seat in the United Nations (UN). Most will recall its attempt of becoming a member state at the UN General Assembly, but were only granted the status of observer non-member state alongside the Holy See. Palestine also was voted in to become the UNESCO’s 195th member state, the UN’s cultural arm. The United States and Israel tried to turn things around by not paying their UNESCO membership dues as a result of the decision, but only ended up losing their voting rights. Just last December, a bid for Palestinian statehood was rejected at the UN Security Council after a U.S. veto. Ever since, analysts have been going on about the prospect of Palestine joining the International Criminal Court (ICC), not to be mistaken with the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Hoping to hold Israel accountable for its illegal settlement expansions and war crimes, on January 2, 2015, Palestine signed the Rome Statute, the treaty that founded the ICC. Israel and the U.S. were initial signatories despite having their reservations about the treaty, but both decided to not ratify it and opted out. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stated that Palestine is expected to become a member of the ICC as of April 1, 2015, despite many expecting the ICC to reject Palestine’s application.
So what happens next? The ICC confirmed that Palestine has asked to exercise its jurisdiction over crimes committed in the Palestinian territories of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem as of June 13, 2014. That day was when Israel started a massive indiscriminate roundup opera- tion in the West Bank, after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli boys. Soon after, Israel launched its latest offensive on Gaza from July 8 until August 26: Operation Protective Edge. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), 1,523 civilians were killed. This is in an addition to illegal settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, an issue that has been condemned by most world powers and the UN for years.
Of course, it’s not all that easy. Historically, the ICC hasn’t really been proactive on handling issues related to the occupation of Palestine. Many analysts also claim that the court would be more inclined to try Hamas lead- ers than senior Israeli officials; it is an easier thing to do given that most countries see Hamas (or at least parts of it) as a terrorist organization. But should the court decide that Israel’s crimes are grave enough, a very long and thorough investigation will need to be conducted on the crimes and on the accused. And unlike the ICJ, the ICC doesn’t have an enforcement body, like a police force, to implement the court’s arrest warrants.
There are many other problems that Palestine could face; this is just scratching the surface. The U.S. and Israel have also been working hard to delegitimize and quell the situation. Firstly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze Israel’s monthly transfer of US$125 million in tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority (PA), meaning that the PA will now struggle to pay salaries to thousands of workers. Across the Atlantic, American Senator Lindsey Graham stated that the U.S. would continue to hinder Palestine’s statehood aspirations, in addition to potentially cutting its annual $400 million funding to the Palestinian Authority.
Though the consequences President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA might face sound immense, ICC recognition could be a huge step forward for Palestinian statehood and sovereignty in the long-term. It’s just a matter of how things play out in the coming months... or years.