Erekat likens step toward ICC probe to that of first astronaut on moon

Erekat likens step toward ICC probe to that of first astronaut on moon

The PLO official also says there’s no peace because Israel has not been held accountable, calls Arab normalization with Jewish state ‘a stab in the Palestinian people’s back’

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Cairo, Egypt, in 2011. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Cairo, Egypt, in 2011. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, recently described International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s announcement of her intention to investigate alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories as akin to late US astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon.

Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. While on the moon, he famously uttered the words: “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”

“It is my belief that I can compare this step to the steps of Neil Armstrong when he put his foot on the moon in 1969,” Erekat told Al Jazeera last week. “I do not want to exaggerate with regard to this matter, but the inability to achieve peace throughout these years…was because the Israeli occupation authorities have not been questioned and held accountable.”

Bensouda announced on December 20 that at the end of a five-year preliminary examination, she had found “a reasonable basis” to open an investigation into what she called “the situation in Palestine” and said she was “satisfied” that war crimes have been committed in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Her preliminary examination looked at alleged war crimes by Israel, the Hamas terror group and other parties.

International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda addresses the 18th session of the ICC Assembly of States Parties in The Hague, December 2, 2019 (courtesy International Criminal Court)

The prosecutor, however, asked judges to first determine the ICC’s territorial jurisdiction. Israel has argued that the court lacks jurisdiction over the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, arguing that there is no Palestinian state that has a mandate to transfer criminal jurisdiction over its territory to The Hague.

Israel is not a member of the court, but Israeli officials could be subject to international arrest warrants if indicted. The Palestinians became members of the court in 2015.

In his comments last week, Erekat also asserted that “[Arab] normalization [with Israel] is a stab in the Palestinian [people’s] back and total disregard of Palestinian blood.”

“Any change to the Arab Peace Initiative will not be acceptable to us,” he declared.

The Arab Peace Initiative calls on Israel to agree to a two-state solution along the 1967 lines and a “just” solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, in exchange for Arab nations subsequently normalizing relations with it and declaring the Arab-Israeli conflict over.

In recent years, some Arab countries, including several in the Gulf, have publicly expressed and demonstrated greater openness to Israel and hosted Israeli officials for visits. In October 2018, Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Muscat.

Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab countries to maintain formal diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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