The Israeli government has reversed its position and will respond to the International Criminal Court’s investigation of Palestinian allegations of Israeli war crimes, the daily Haaretz newspaper reported Thursday.
The decision marks an about-face for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has previously refused to engage with the investigators.
Israeli officials maintained, however, that their communications with the ICC probe will only be to reaffirm the government’s stance that the Palestinian Authority, as a non-state actor, does not have the right to open a case against Israel, the report said.
“The Israeli position, like the position of other countries around the world, is that the International Criminal Court in The Hague has no authority to hear the Palestinian request since Palestine is not a country and because the Israeli judicial system is independent and can handle complaints on the matter of alleged war crimes,” an unnamed Israeli official told the newspaper.
The decision to work with the ICC was apparently made by Netanyahu over the past few months, in collaboration with representatives of the justice and foreign ministries, the Israel Defense Forces and the National Security Council. Representatives from those same groups will reportedly travel to The Hague to meet with its chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda of The Gambia.
“We are not talking about cooperation with the preliminary examination the ICC is conducting at the Palestinian request,” the Israeli official was quoted as saying. “Israel has no obligation to cooperate with the preliminary examination the prosecutor’s office is conducting.”
At the end of last month, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki handed ICC prosecutors a file detailing alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza and settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“This is a Palestinian attempt to manipulate and politicize the judicial mechanisms of the ICC,” Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said at the time.
But an official involved in the decision said that despite Israel’s reservations about the case: “Nonetheless, as has been done in the past with other international organizations that dealt with matters related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as the UN secretary-general’s board of inquiry to examine the attacks on UN facilities in Gaza, we examined the matter and decided that in this case it would be proper to present the prosecutor and her staff with the Israeli position concerning the court’s lack of authority in a direct fashion, so that not only Palestinian claims are heard.”
Bensouda’s initial investigation aims to establish if there is sufficient evidence to merit opening a full-scale probe that could ultimately lead to charges against both Israelis and Palestinians. It is unclear how long this process will take.
A decision to order a full investigation can only come from judges in the ICC’s pretrial department.
The filing “confirms that the absence of accountability has led to the recurrence of violations and crimes and will continue to do so if gone unchecked,” the Palestinians said in a statement before the filing.
Should the review lead to an investigation, the court may also look into crimes allegedly committed by the Palestinians as well.
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.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.