04/01/2015, 00.00
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Palestinian ICC membership means Israel and Palestinians will be accountable

Palestine becomes the 123rd member of the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague. Now the court will be able to investigate (alleged) war crimes in Gaza. Israeli leaders could end up on trial. The move has been criticised in Israel as "counterproductive." For a Palestinian Catholic leader, it is an "important step" against "those who committed human rights violations”. Now everyone can be accountable for his or her acts.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Palestinian membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an "important step" to call to account those who committed crimes and human rights violations in recent years, especially during last summer’s bloody conflict in Gaza.

Prof Bernard Sabella, a Catholic Fatah member from Jerusalem who is executive secretary of the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees for the Middle East Council of Churches, spoke to AsiaNews about Palestinian membership in the ICC

For Prof Sabella, Palestine’s accession will allow for the prosecution of "those who committed human rights violations," both states and individuals, and “will make everyone accountable for their acts.”

This morning, Palestine became the 123rd member state of the ICC in a ceremony held at ICC headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands; exactly 90 days after Palestine acceded to the Rome Statute. All major Palestinian political groups back the move.

Membership in fact is a necessary step for starting a case against Israel for (alleged) war crimes. Now the Palestinians can call on the ICC to investigate last summer’s conflict in the Gaza Strip, which left 2,200 dead among the Palestinians (including 1,500 civilians) and 73 on the Israeli side, 67 of them soldiers.

On 16 January, following a declaration by the Government of Palestine, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor opened a preliminary examination concerning the conflict in the Gaza Strip, expanding Jewish settlement activities and use of resources in the Occupied Territories. What is more, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who is from Gambia, can also investigate crimes committed by Palestinian groups, like Hamas, in the Occupied Territories.

Prof Sabella told AsiaNews that Palestinian membership is “important from a legal point of view” because it will enable the court to bring to justice "anyone who committed crimes or war crimes". The court itself is important to "protect entire populations".

However, membership must be placed "in a broader context," and should not be used just to punish Israel for its crimes; instead, it should be part of a process that leads to a two-state solution.

ICC proceedings should encourage a “serious political process,” said the Catholic Fatah member, one that “should write The End on the [ongoing] conflicts”.

For Prof Sabella "the ball is now in Israel’s court.” The Israelis “must decide what to do about settlements, the blockade in Gaza, the Palestinian state . . .".

“As a Palestinian Catholic lawmaker, I will use the opportunity offered by the upcoming celebration of the Easter of the Resurrection to express my hope to that the peace process between Israel and Palestine might be reborn as well."

Israel has never ratified the Rome Statute and is not a member of the International Criminal Court, which, however, has jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the territory of a signatory nation.

The Court does not pursue countries, but individuals in leadership positions, who can be sued for criminal acts like war crimes, genocide, etc., committed in a given territory.

Israel has vehemently opposed Palestinian membership in the court. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said unilateral Palestinian moves are "absolutely counterproductive" and will make it harder to resume negotiations.

Israeli government leaders have not yet spoken on the matter taking a wait and see attitude to Palestinian membership in the ICC. However, the reaction was different among Palestinians.

For Mustafa Barghouti, leader of the Palestinian National Initiative, “This means that the impunity Israel has had for 67 years is over, and it will face accountability in front of international law”.

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