Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says the Palestinian bid to become a member of the International Criminal Court will only broaden the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians
On Jan. 2, only days after the United Nations Security Council voted down a Jordanian-backed resolution to end Israel’s occupation of the disputed Palestinian territories, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted a request to join the International Criminal Court.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird released a statement in response calling the Palestinian bid this week to join the ICC a “concerning and dangerous development.” “Such a provocative decision only furthers the divide between Palestinians and Israelis, and will carry unfortunate consequences.”
“The path chosen can be reversed, and instead, the Palestinian Authority can recommit to a negotiated solution. We believe this is the only way to bring about a just and lasting peace. Israelis and Palestinians deserve nothing less,” Baird said.
“Canada has expressed these concerns directly to the Palestinian Authority for nearly four years now.” The move would put the Palestinians in a position to launch war-crimes investigations against Israel but it also opens the possibility of the Palestinians themselves being investigated for war crimes.
An international backlash against the request has already started. The U.S. Congress is considering slashing the $400 million the U.S. gives annually to the Palestinians and Israel is holding back $127 million in tax revenues meant for the Palestinians this month. Khaled Elgindy, a fellow of the Brookings Institution, said with Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress after the 2014 midterm elections, the punitive measures could extend to the UN itself if the U.S. government wanted to.
“There are laws on the books essentially stating that any international body that Palestine joins will have to be defunded. So there is pressure from some Republicans to carry through those threats,” he said. “There is a real threat of cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority but also action aimed at the defunding of the UN which is frankly a matter of US law,” Elgindy told Al Jazeera.
U.S. State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said the move is “counter-productive and [would] do nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state.”
On Jan 2, NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said that PAs bid to join the ICC is both “understandable” and “entirely legal.”
However, Dewar agreed with the government’s position that the move does pose a serious risk in escalating tensions and jeopardizing future negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
“This isn’t going to solve the quagmire that we see between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It doesn’t lead us to what we want to see, which is the creation of a state of Palestine with recognition from the Israelis,” Dewar said.
Marc Garneau, the Liberal foreign affairs critic, voiced similar concerns, saying the PAs “unilateral” move risks the possibility of the “two-state solution.” “I think it sends a signal which is counter-productive. They are free to apply but I think it is a mistake on their part and will only make the situation worse by entrenching positions,” he said.
Riyad Mansour, the chief Palestinian observer at the United Nations, said the purpose of the PAs bid will be to use the court to launch war crimes charges against Israel over last summer’s war and to bring pressure on Israel to end the occupation of the disputed territories.
“This is a very significant step,” Mansour said. “It is an option that we are seeking in order to seek justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power.”
The occupied territories consist of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights Israel captured in 1967.
Known as the Six-Day War, Israel launched a preemptive strike against the surrounding Arab states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria as they were preparing to invade them again.
Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the Sinai Peninsula in 1982. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said Israel will not pull back to pre-1967 lines which would compromise its security and ability to defend itself if it did.
The ICC was created in 2002 with the purpose of investigating and prosecuting states charged with acts of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The court currently has 122 member states. Canada is a member, but Israel and the United States are not.
The Palestinians believe their application for ICC membership will be successful, bolstered after the UN General Assembly in 2012 voted to upgrade Palestine to a non-member observer state. However, there is no reason to believe that the ICC would not pursue charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Palestine for the actions of Hamas – the Islamist party that rules the Gaza Strip dedicated to the destruction of Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the ICC should deny the Palestinian Authority membership on the court because it is not a state. He also said the decision denying Palestine membership should be based on Hamas’ history of committing war crimes as well. “We will not let Israel Defense Forces soldiers and officers be dragged to the International Criminal Court in The Hague,” Netanyahu said.
Although Palestine’s request appears likely to go through, the final decision is up to Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations.