The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court signaled that she will not be rushed into making a decision on whether to launch an investigation into alleged “crimes” by Israel against the Palestinians.
In a statement issued after Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki called for an immediate investigation, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Tuesday noted that she has been conducting a preliminary probe since January 2015 to establish whether she should open a full-blown investigation.
She said the “preliminary examination has seen important progress and will continue to follow its normal course” guided by provisions in the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute.
Bensouda said she must consider “issues of jurisdiction, admissibility, and the interests of justice” in deciding whether to open an investigation.
Malki said he submitted the “referral” to the court during a meeting with Bensouda in The Hague on Tuesday.
Malki said the complaint seeks an investigation into Israeli policies in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem since the Palestinians joined the ICC in June 2014.
He said that included Israeli settlement policies as well as recent violence in the Gaza Strip. Since March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken part in weekly “March of Return” protests, which Israel says are orchestrated by the ruling Hamas terror group and used as cover for attempted attacks and breaches of the border fence.
Malki called the request an important “test” of accountability for the ICC.
“There is a culture of impunity in Israel for crimes against Palestinians,” Malki said. “This referral is Palestine’s test to the international mechanism of accountability and respect for international law.”
According to a Palestinian statement, the document that Malki handed to the court’s prosecutors underscores “that there is sufficient compelling evidence of the ongoing commission of grave crimes to warrant an immediate investigation.”
Israel rejected the Palestinian request as “cynical” and “absurd.”
In response to Tuesday’s move at the ICC, Israel said it took a “severe view” of the Palestinian request. It accused the Palestinians of violent incitement against Israel and exploiting women and children as human shields.
Jerusalem also said the ICC had no jurisdiction in the case because Israel is not a member of the court.
“Israel expects the ICC and its prosecutor not to yield to Palestinian pressure, and stand firm against continued Palestinian efforts to politicize the court and to derail it from its mandate,” the Israeli statement said.
Though Israel is not a member of the ICC, its citizens can be charged by the court if they are suspected of committing crimes on the territory or against a national of a country that is a member. The ICC has recognized Palestine as a member state.
While the ICC can indict suspects, it has no police force and has to rely on cooperation from member states to enforce arrest warrants.
Dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire during a violent protest last week along the border with the Gaza Strip.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 64 Palestinians were killed on Monday and Tuesday, bringing to the total to over a hundred deaths since weekly protests began on March 30. Hamas, which rules Gaza and seeks to destroy Israel, has subsequently admitted that 50 of the dead were members of the terror group. Three others were Islamic Jihad terror group members.