WASHINGTON (AP) — Israel’s military chief said Thursday he was disappointed that Palestinian leaders may pursue war-crimes charges against the Jewish state in the International Criminal Court.
Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said his forces work hard to prevent civilian casualties while still defending the country. He called the possible charges an unnecessary, unilateral step and said Israel has the ability to investigate incidents when needed.
Gantz spoke to reporters after a Pentagon meeting with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The UN accepted a request by observer state Palestine to join the ICC, effective April 1. Israel is not a member.
Israel retaliated for the Palestinian move to join the ICC by freezing the transfer of more than $100 million a month in taxes it collects for the Palestinians.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted the declaration to the ICC registrar on January 1, accepting the court’s jurisdiction over its territories, going back to June 13, 2014. That’s the day after three Israeli teens were abducted and killed by Hamas militants in the West Bank, an attack that set off events that culminated in the Gaza war.
On Thursday, the Palestinian UN ambassador said that the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court can immediately start examining allegations of war crimes against Israel if she chooses. Riyadh Mansour told a group of reporters that Palestine’s formal acceptance of the court’s jurisdiction starting June 13, 2014, gives prosecutor Fatou Bensouda the green light to take up the question of alleged war crimes on Palestinian territory without waiting for Palestine to formally become a member of the court on April 1.
“It is within her discretion that she can do that,” Mansour said.
Fadi el-Abdallah, a spokesman for the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands, confirmed that the prosecutor can now, in theory, begin a “preliminary examination” of potential cases in the Palestinian territories. Bensouda has not announced any such examination yet.
The potential cases could include allegations of war crimes by Israel during last summer’s Gaza war, where the Palestinians suffered heavy civilian casualties. Israel’s settlement construction on occupied Palestinian lands could also be examined.
Israel, in turn, has charged that it is the Palestinians who should fear prosecution at the criminal court. An Israeli official said that Palestinian leaders “ought to fear legal steps” in the US and at The Hague as a response to their move toward ICC membership.
The cases could also include alleged war crimes by Hamas, which controls Gaza, including the firing of hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that the state of Palestine has the right to join the ICC and other treaties, but getting the Palestinians and Israelis to return to negotiations and reach a peace deal is “much more important.”