THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Palestinian Authority foreign minister said Tuesday that his government intends to apply for membership at the International Criminal Court this year in hopes of holding Israel responsible for alleged violations of war crimes law.
PA officials have said in recent days that they want to file suits against Israel over the past month’s Israel-Hamas war. Israeli officials, denying allegations of war crimes, have said Hamas would be vulnerable to such suits.
But the ICC said in a statement that it currently doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories. The court couldn’t immediately be reached to clarify whether it would accept an application by the Palestinians for jurisdiction.
“Israel has left us with no other option,” Riyad Malki told reporters after meeting with court officials in The Hague.
But he stopped short of guaranteeing that his nation will actually apply.
“This is just one step short of becoming members,” he said at the headquarters of the Palestinian mission in The Hague. Joining is now “a question of procedural matters.”
An earlier attempt by the Palestinians to join the ICC in 2009 failed because the court wasn’t certain the territories qualified as a state under its rules. Malki argued Tuesday that is no longer an issue since the state of Palestine was recognized by the U.N. General Assembly as a nonmember observer state in November 2012.
But the ICC may be loath to wade into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The court prosecutes war crimes and grave violations of human rights in member countries that are unable to do so themselves. But it has no police force of its own and relies on cooperation from its members.
Israel rejects the court’s authority. Palestinian membership would open the door for an investigation of Hamas, which hasn’t committed to cooperating with the court.
Last week, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said both Israel and Hamas appear to have violated international humanitarian law during fighting in the past month in Gaza.
Malki said that after discussions with ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, the Palestinian Authority will consult with international law experts, human rights groups and various Palestinian groups before applying for ICC membership.
“We want to be assured that all Palestinian factions … adhere to the decision and know in advance the consequences,” he said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this story.