Israel is said to be considering filing war crime lawsuits in the US and beyond against top Palestinian officials.
An Israeli official told Reuters on Saturday that Israel was “weighing the possibilities for large-scale prosecution in the United States and elsewhere” of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other top officials, a day after the PA submitted documents to the United Nations to join the International Criminal Court.
The official added that Palestinian leaders “ought to fear legal steps” as a response to their move toward ICC membership.
“(Hamas) … commits war crimes, shooting at civilians from civilian populated areas,” the official said, in reference to the 50-day conflict Israel fought with Hamas and other terror groups in and around Gaza. Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians, and a Thai agricultural worker, in the month-long conflict, while the Palestinian death toll surpassed 2,100, according to Hamas officials in Gaza. Israel said half of the Gaza dead were gunmen and blamed Hamas for all civilian deaths because it operated from residential areas, placing Gazans in harm’s way.
A second official told the news agency that Israel may push these cases via non-governmental organizations and pro-Israel legal groups who can file lawsuits abroad.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that it is the Palestinians who will find themselves in the dock for Hamas’s terrorism and indiscriminate rocket fire at Israel if they join the ICC. Netanyahu has accused Abbas of collaborating with the terror group after a unity deal was signed between the two rivals in April.
The unity pact between Abbas and Hamas also prompted Netanyahu to end peace talks with the Palestinian Authority after a nine-month, US-brokered effort.
The Palestinians moved to join the court after suffering a defeat in the UN Security Council, which rejected a resolution that called on Israel to pull out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem within three years.
The International Criminal Court has recognized the UN General Assembly’s recognition of Palestine as an observer state. Handing over the paperwork is the last formal step for Palestine to become a member of the ICC, which would take at least 60 days.
Israel has threatened retaliation if the Palestinians join the court, and the United States has also vehemently opposed the move as an obstacle to hopes of reaching an Israeli-Palestinians peace deal. The US may also pull funding from the PA, to the tune of $400 million, if the Palestinians pursue claims against Israel at the ICC.
The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, delivered the ICC-related documents — known as instruments of ratification — to Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Stephen Mathias on Friday morning.
“This is a very significant step,” Mansour told reporters. “We are seeking justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power.”
“We are honored that we are the 123rd state-party of the ICC, which will be effective in about 60 days from now in accordance with the rules and procedures of the ICC,” Mansour said.
At the international court, the Palestinians could seek to have Israeli military or political figures prosecuted for alleged crimes involving settlement construction on occupied lands or actions by the military that cause heavy civilian casualties, for instance.
Abbas on Thursday asked the ICC to investigate Israel for war crimes allegedly committed during the 50-day war with Hamas and other Gaza terror groups last summer.
Also on Thursday, the Palestinians submitted letters of accession to 20 international treaties, including the Rome Statute, to Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, James W. Rawley, the official Palestinian Wafa news agency reported.
Israeli analysts have highlighted a long and highly complex process ahead before the ICC could move to file indictments against Israeli figures for alleged war crimes.
Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.