The International Criminal Court at the Hague approved an investigation into Israel on Friday evening, citing war crimes.
The court recognized the Palestinian Authority as a member of the ICC Rome Statute, which dictates the locations which stand under the court’s jurisdiction. It recognized the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza as falling into the category.
According to the court, it may apply the Rome Statute to alleged war crimes committed by Israel.
The Rome Statute is the treaty established by the ICC which dictates its functions, jurisdiction and structure.
“Today, the International Criminal Court has proven once more that it is a political body and not a judicial institution,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday in response to the decision.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi claimed that the ICC has no right to conduct the investigation, saying that the decision turns the court into a “political tool in the hands of anti-Israel propaganda.
“The ICC’s decision is a “historic day for the principle of accountability,” the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said it was ready to cooperate with the ICC’s prosecutor in the event an investigation was launched.
The decision is a win for “the victims of the Israeli crimes,” according to Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. He called on the court to go forth with its investigation.
The permission for the criminal investigation was given to Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, whose term ends in June. She had conducted a preliminary investigation into the alleged war crimes. It states that the investigation can look into actions taken in Judea and Samaria, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal, and Israel violated the laws of war during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and the 2018 Gaza border riots, Bensouda said. She also accused Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups of targeting Israeli civilians and using Palestinians as human shields.
The investigation, according to the ICC‘s announcement of the decision, will look into high-ranking government and army officials, including Netanyahu and chiefs-of-staff, past and present.
The decision of the court was based on a resolution by the UN General Assembly which stated that the Palestinian people have a right to self-determination and independence in the “occupied Palestinian territories since 1967.”
A majority of the ICC judges supported the recognition of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, as a state.
The ICC long pushed off its decision on its ability to hear war crimes suits regarding the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. Last July, the court’s pre-trial chamber broke for summer recess without making a decision.
Both the US and Israel have publicly argued that the ICC lacks jurisdiction to hear war crimes suits with regard to actions in the discussed regions, but did not submit any legal briefs on the matter to the court.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo charged in July that the ICC’s actions with regard to Israel were politicized.
“And we see multilateral human rights bodies failing us. The United Nations Human Rights Council does the bidding of dictators and averts its gaze from the worst human rights offenses of our times,” Pompeo said during a speech on inalienable rights.
“Indeed, international courts too have largely abandoned unalienable rights. The International Criminal Court is training its sights on Americans and Israelis, not the ayatollahs of the world.”
Israel is likely to bring up the possibility of proceedings against it in the ICC in early meetings with US President Joe Biden, an official with knowledge of the matter said last month.
“The outgoing administration sanctioned the ICC, and we supported this pressure,” the official said. “This will be one of the issues we are eager to raise with the incoming administration.”
Israel is concerned that the Biden administration will lift sanctions on the ICC, enacted by the Trump administration last year, and the court will then allow Bensouda to open a full investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes, KAN News reported last month.