The International Criminal Court is set to send a team of investigators to Israel by the end of the month to examine Palestinian allegations of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
As part of a preliminary examination of the Palestinians’ claims, the investigators are scheduled to arrive on June 27 and will try to determine if there is sufficient evidence that crimes covered by the court have been committed, Haaretz reported on Thursday, citing Palestinian sources.
The Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court said in a statement that such trips by prosecutors are not an unusual occurrence.
“As part of its preliminary examination activities, the Office of the Prosecutor conducts field visits as it has done in the past with other situations under preliminary examinations,” the statement said. “From the outset, the prosecutor has consistently made clear that the situation in Palestine will not be treated any differently from the others. Therefore, the office as per normal practice, is considering a visit to the region during the course of its preliminary examination. Contrary to media reports, no date has been confirmed and further planning is required.”
Should the review lead to an investigation, the court may also look into crimes allegedly committed by the Palestinians as well.
Even if the ICC decides to launch a full-fledged investigation, the UN Security Council can ask the court to delay proceedings for up to two years, the report said.
Haaretz cited Palestinian sources to the effect that security council members Russia and China have both said they would veto a motion to delay an investigation.
An unnamed senior Israeli official was quoted as saying that the development is no indication that the ICC is giving the investigation special attention.
“Nothing about it testifies to the progress of the examination or its pace,” he said and noted that Israel is to review the prosecution’s intention to visit in the coming days.
“We will examine every request for a visit while taking into account all the relevant considerations, including Israel’s position that Palestine is not a state and therefore the court has no authority to consider the Palestinian complaint,” the official was quoted as saying.
News of the ICC visit came as the Palestinians prepared to submit two files of alleged Israeli crimes to ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki plans to personally hand over the files to Bensouda on June 25, in The Hague, where the ICC is headquartered. Sources said there was no significance to the timing of the trip so close to the ICC team visit to Israel, pointing out that al-Malki had already made his travel plans at the beginning of the month.
The files are to aid Bensouda in deciding whether or not to upgrade the preliminary probe into a full investigation of criminal activity. A decision to order a full investigation can only come from judges in the ICC’s pretrial department.
The Palestinian Authority officially joined the International Criminal Court on April 1, after having signed the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, last December. Though Israel is not a member of the court, cases could be brought before it against Israeli individuals suspected of war crimes committed in territory claimed by the Palestinians. In January, Bensouda initiated an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel during the seven-week war between Israel and armed actions in Gaza last summer.
Israel has dubbed the Palestinians’ joining the court as “scandalous,” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning that it turns the ICC “into part of the problem and not part of the solution.” Meanwhile, the Israeli non-governmental organization Shurat Hadin — Israel Law Center has begun collecting incriminating information on Palestinian leaders as a deterrent measure at the ICC.
Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.