International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda initiated on Friday a preliminary probe into whether the Israeli army committed war crimes during last summer’s offensive on Gaza. In addition, Bensouda indicated that Palestine should be recognized as a state following the UN General Assembly’s November 29, 2012 vote recognizing a “State of Palestine.”
From February 2009 until April 2012, Palestinians made attempts to bring war crimes allegations against Israel in relation to the 2008-9 Israeli offensive on Gaza. However, the ICC Prosecutor’s Office dismissed such attempts, declaring that “Palestine” was not yet a state and that only states could seek ICC intervention.
Bensouda’s decision does not mean actual war crimes trials are imminent. However, Israeli analysts perceive it as a most serious escalation toward possible war crimes trials of Israeli military personnel and political leaders.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry hailed the decision as a “positive and significant step toward achieving justice and respecting international law.”
The ministry added that the Palestinian decided to join the ICC was intended “to put an end to Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said on Saturday his organization appreciates the move.
“What is needed now is to provide the court with thousands of reports and documents that confirm the Zionist enemy has committed horrible crimes against Gaza and against our people,” he added in a statement.
Not unexpectedly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the ICC move, claiming it is absurd.
“I won’t be surprised if ISIS, Al Qaeda and Hizbollah follow suit,” he added on Saturday.
In response to Bensouda’s decision, Israel is lobbying member-states of the ICC to cut funding for the tribunal.
Israel, which is not a member of the ICC, hopes to dent funding for the court which is drawn from the 122 member states in accordance with the size of their economies, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday.
“We will demand of our friends in Canada, in Australia and in Germany simply to stop funding it,” he told Israel Radio.
“This body represents no one. It is a political body,” he said. “There are a quite a few countries – I’ve already taken telephone calls about this – that also think there is no justification for this body’s existence.”
He said he would raise the matter with visiting Canadian counterpart John Baird on Sunday.
Another Israeli official told Reuters that a similar request was sent to Germany, traditionally one of the court’s strongest supporters, and would also be made to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is separately visiting Jerusalem and whose nation is the largest contributor to the ICC.