Palestine does not have the legal status, says prosecutor

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has controversially stalled the bid by the Palestinian Authority (PA) for an investigation into Israel's conduct during the Gaza war of 2008 because Palestine does not have the required legal status of an internationally recognised independent State.

“I need Palestine recognised as a state because I am not the prosecutor of the world; I am the prosecutor of the countries who accept my jurisdiction. I need a country accepting me and then I investigate the crimes,”Al Arabiya quoted ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo as saying.

The heavy Israeli incursion apparently to curb cross-border rocket fire from Gaza, began at the end of December 2008 and ended 22 days later. It is estimated that the conflict, infamous for the alleged use of phosphorus bombs in populated areas, killed at least 1,166 Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority in January 2009 had approached Mr. Luis Moreno-Ocampo to launch a war crimes investigation against Israel following the Gaza war.

In a statement, the ICC prosecutor noted that over 130 countries and some U.N. bodies did recognise Palestine as a State. However, Palestine enjoyed only an observer status in the U.N. General Assembly. The ICC said in the future, it could consider allegations of war crimes committed in the Palestine, provided the Security Council arrived at a decision to recognise Palestine as an independent State. Analysts say the ICC's position indefinitely stalls the investigation into Israel's alleged war crimes, because the U.S. has declared that it would veto any resolution in the Council that would formalise Palestine's status as a State. The Council is yet to take a position on admitting Palestine, despite President Abbas' application in September seeking full U.N. membership. The Palestinians have long sought the establishment of an independent, sovereign state in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. However, an interrupted peace process for two decades has failed to yield tangible results.

Unsurprisingly, Israel has welcomed the ICC's position. In a statement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said: “Israel has noted the ICC's ruling saying that at this time, The Hague will not hear any of the complaints filed by the PA. Israel has made it clear from the very beginning that the court has no jurisdiction over the matter”. The statement, nevertheless added that Israel “still has reservations as to some of the legal statements made by the International Criminal Court's General Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo”.

However, Amnesty International has slammed the ICC's position, picking holes in the argument that Council did not have the jurisdiction to investigate because of Palestine's legal status. “For the past three years, the prosecutor has been considering the question of whether the Palestinian Authority is a “state” that comes under the jurisdiction of the ICC and whether the ICC can investigate crimes committed during the 2008-9 conflict in Gaza and southern Israel,” said Marek Marczynski, head of Amnesty International's International Justice campaign.

“Now, despite Amnesty International's calls and a very clear requirement in the ICC's statute that the judges should decide on such matters, the Prosecutor has erroneously dodged the question, passing it to other political bodies,” he added.

Human Rights Watch said the ICC's “decision appears to close the door for now on access to the ICC for victims of international crimes committed in the Palestinian Territories — at least until the General Assembly recognises Palestinian statehood”.

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