Three judges at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday asked the Palestinian Authority to clarify PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s statement about terminating all agreements with Israel, and whether it applies to the Oslo Accords as well.
The judges — who make up the pretrial chamber tasked with ruling on whether the court has jurisdiction to open a criminal investigation into suspected war crimes committed on Palestinian territories — have given Ramallah a June 10 deadline to respond to their query.
It is unclear how the Palestinians will respond, but observers say the pretrial chamber’s interest in the status of the 1993 accords puts Ramallah in a bind: If it renounces the agreement that for the first time granted it autonomy in the areas it claims for its state, and thus hands the keys back to Israel, how can it argue that Palestine is a sovereign state that can transfer jurisdiction to The Hague for a war crimes investigation?
The court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, whose opinion that the court does have jurisdiction to launch the probe is partially based on the Oslo Accords, has been ordered by the pretrial chamber to respond to the Palestinians’ response by June 14.
????#PTC1 / @IntlCrimCourt requests submissions from #Palestine in light of #MohammedAbbas (#AbuMaazen) declaration of 19.5.20 that @nadplo and @Palestine_UN are no longer bound by the Oslo Accords and all understandings incl security. Invites #Israel & orders #Bensouda to respond. pic.twitter.com/2I8rAs7KsB
— Nick Kaufman (@kaufman_law) May 26, 2020
In a May 19 speech to Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, Abbas declared that the Palestine Liberation Organization and the State of Palestine “are absolved, as of today, of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the obligations based on these understandings and agreements.”
He made those comments in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank in the framework of the US administration’s peace proposal.
Abbas also said Israel would have to assume responsibility for the civilian Palestinian population.
“The Israeli occupation authority, as of today, has to shoulder all responsibilities and obligations in front of the international community as an occupying power over the territory of the occupied state of Palestine, with all its consequences and repercussions based on international law and international humanitarian law,” he said.
Abbas claimed Netanyahu’s remarks the day before about the planned extension of Israeli sovereignty over settlements and the Jordan Valley meant Israel had “annulled” the Oslo Accords, which established the PA and kicked off the decades-long peace process, “and all agreements signed with it.”
On April 30, ICC prosecutor Bensouda reiterated her position that Palestine is a state for the purposes of transferring criminal jurisdiction over its territory to The Hague.
It is now up to a pretrial chamber to rule on the matter. The three judges of that chamber — Péter Kovács of Hungary, Marc Perrin de Brichambaut of France and Reine Adélaïde Sophie Alapini-Gansou of Benin — have no set deadline to hand down their decision but are expected to do so within 90 days.
On Tuesday, the pretrial chamber surprisingly issued a document saying that Abbas’s comments about no longer being bound by agreements with Israel came to its attention, and it “requests Palestine to provide additional information on this statement, including on the question whether it pertains to any of the Oslo agreements between Palestine and Israel.”
The chamber also “invite[d] Israel to respond to any additional information” Ramallah may provide by June 24.
But Jerusalem, which has long argued that Palestine is not a sovereign state and therefore cannot transfer criminal jurisdiction over its territory to the Hague, is unlikely to accept the judges’ offer, lest any formal engagement with the court be seen as legitimizing it.
Netanyahu has repeatedly denounced the ICC and declared thwarting a possible war crimes probe one of the new government’s top priorities.
The Oslo Accords were signed in Washington in 1993. A follow-up agreement two years later, sometimes called Oslo II, set out the scope of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. The interim pact was only supposed to last five years while a permanent agreement was finalized but it has tacitly been rolled over for more than two decades.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.