Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday ordered the formation of a committee to oversee cases to lodge with the International Criminal Court, in a move likely to further anger the Israeli government.
The Palestinians formally joined the ICC last month, enabling them to submit war crimes and crimes against humanity complaints against Israel.
The new committee will be headed by chief negotiator Saeb Erakat and will include various figures from the Palestinian political scene, universities and human rights organizations, said the official Wafa news agency.
The committee “will identify and prepare the documents and records that the state of Palestine will present to the ICC,” the agency said, citing Abbas.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine, her office said in a statement last month, adding it may lead to a full-blown investigation.
The probe would review “in full independence and impartiality” alleged crimes committed since June 13 last year, the beginning of tensions between Israel and the Palestinians that culminated in Operation Protective Edge — a 50-day conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza that resulted in the deaths of approximately 2,200 Palestinians, according to Hamas figures, and 72 people on the Israeli side.
Israel says half of those killed in Gaza were Hamas and other gunmen, and that Hamas is to blame for all civilian fatalities since Hamas placed rocket launchers, cross-border tunnel entrances and other elements of its war machine in residential areas.
Israel also maintains that Hamas and other groups operating within the Gaza Strip indiscriminately targeted civilian population centers with rocket fire and used Gaza’s populace as “human shields,” engaging the IDF from private homes, schools, hospitals, mosques and UN compounds, thereby drawing the scorn of the international community.
The ICC probe may pave the way for alleged Palestinian war crimes to be investigated as well, including Hamas’s. Potential cases Bensouda could also take on include Israel’s settlement construction on land claimed by the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted angrily to the prosecutor’s decision to launch the probe, calling it “preposterous” and “absurd” since “the Palestinian Authority cooperates with Hamas, a terror group that commits war crimes, in contrast to Israel that fights terror while maintaining international law, and has an independent justice system.”
The Palestinian Authority’s decision to press forward its suit in the ICC has cost it greatly, as Jerusalem suspended transferring over $120 million in tax revenue to Ramallah, and representatives within the US government have called on President Barack Obama to halt the $400 million of aid Washington supplies the PA annually.
Abbas’s decision to go to the ICC came after failing to gain a majority for a statehood bid at the United Nations that called for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem by the end of 2017.
The Palestinian Authority has indicated that it will likely file another bid with the Security Council after Israeli elections in March.