x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 24 October 2017

Palestinians turn to ICC after UN resolution defeated

Request to join International Criminal Court paves way for prosecution of Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, at the UN Security Council meeting on December 30, 2014, to vote on a resolution calling for an end to Israeli occupation within three years. Frank Franklin II / AP Photo
The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, at the UN Security Council meeting on December 30, 2014, to vote on a resolution calling for an end to Israeli occupation within three years. Frank Franklin II / AP Photo

RAMALLAH // President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday signed a Palestinian request to join the International Criminal Court, seeking a new avenue for action against Israel after a failed UN resolution on ending the occupation.

Mr Abbas signed the request along with applications to join 20 other international conventions during a meeting broadcast live on Palestinian television.

The Palestinians hope ICC membership will pave the way for war crimes prosecutions against Israeli officials for their actions in the occupied territories.

The Hague-based ICC can prosecute individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and Palestinian plans to become a party to the court have been strongly opposed by Israel and the United States.

The Palestinians can use the court to challenge the legality of Israeli settlement construction on occupied lands and to pursue war crimes charges connected to military activity.

Israel warned that joining the court would also expose the Palestinians to prosecution.

The applications came one day after the UN Security Council rejected a resolution on ending the Israeli occupation.

The resolution would have set a 12-month deadline for Israel to reach a final peace deal with the Palestinians, and called for a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Palestinian territories by the end of 2017.

Council heavyweights China, France and Russia were among eight countries voting in favour, while the US and Australia voted against.

Israel on Wednesday summoned the French ambassador over his country’s support for the UN resolution.

The vote at the 15-member security council came after a three-month campaign by the Palestinians.

The Palestinians denounced the failure to win the necessary nine votes to pass the resolution as “outrageously shameful”, while Israel hailed its rejection as a victory against Palestinian efforts to diplomatically “embarrass and isolate” Israel.

The five countries that abstained were Britain, Lithuania, South Korea, Rwanda and Nigeria, which had been expected to support the resolution.

The failure to win the nine “yes” votes necessary for the resolution to be adopted spared Washington from having to wield its veto, which would have caused it embarrassment with key Arab allies.

But it was also a diplomatic blow for the Palestinians who had counted on the symbolic victory of nine votes, even though the resolution would in all likelihood have been blocked by a US veto.

The missing vote was that of Nigeria, which had assured the Palestinians it would support their resolution but which ended up abstaining after lobbying efforts by both Israel and Washington.

Russia expressed regret over the council’s failure to pass the resolution, describing it as “a strategic error”.

Moscow’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin accused Washington of “monopolising” decades of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and leading them “to a dead end”.

“The UN Security Council vote is outrageously shameful,” said senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi.

“Those countries that abstained demonstrated a lack of political will to hold Israel accountable and to act in accordance with the global rule of law and international humanitarian law,” she said.

The Islamist Hamas movement, the de facto rulers of Gaza, blamed Mr Abbas for the setback, demanding that he cut security cooperation with Israel and join the ICC.

“This was a unilateral decision taken by Abu Mazen [Abbas] who has taken the Palestinian decision-making process hostage,” spokesman Fawzi Barhum said.

“He is now facing two choices after this failure ... he must make good on his threats to end security cooperation with the occupier, and sign the Rome Statute,” he said, referring to the court’s founding treaty.

Speaking on Wednesday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Sydney and Washington for their support and extended special thanks to Nigeria and Rwanda.

* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Associated Press