Palestinians tell ICC that annexation will void Oslo Accords

However, the PA’s response to court’s query on Mahmoud Abbas’ declaration last month voiding all agreements with Israel may already have that effect

PA President Mahmoud Abbas heads a leadership meeting at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 19, 2020. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas heads a leadership meeting at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 19, 2020. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)

The Palestinian Authority told the International Criminal Court on Thursday that Israeli annexation of the parts of the West Bank would annul the Oslo Accords and all other bilateral agreements between Ramallah and Jerusalem.

The statement, issued in writing by PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, came after three ICC judges last week asked for a clarification of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech last month in which he declared all agreements with Israel null and void and that the PA is no longer bound by any of these agreements.

The judges — who make up the pretrial chamber tasked with ruling on whether the court has jurisdiction to open a criminal investigation into suspected war crimes committed on Palestinian territories — had given Ramallah a June 10 deadline to respond to their query.

In response to the request, al-Malki re-released a statement Abbas had originally made in May, declaring that “if Israel proceeds with annexation, a material breach of the agreements between the two sides, then it will have annulled any remnants of the Oslo Accords and all other agreements concluded between them.”

The statement continued to say that Israel’s “persistent violations of these agreements, and its announced plans and measures for annexation, absolve the Palestine Liberation Organization and the State of Palestine from any obligation arising from these agreements, including security.”

However, the PA reportedly emphasized that Abbas’ statement “was not made as part of the record of these proceedings and did not in any way purport to, nor does it, legally affect” the question presently weighed by the pretrial chamber.

In his 13-page statement, al-Malki also lamented that “so far the ICC’s involvement in the Situation in the State of Palestine has had no apparent dissuasive effect on Israel and its leadership in regards to its commission of crimes, which continue unabated.”

He therefor calls on the pretrial chamber to “act decisively and expeditiously” in deciding whether the court has jurisdiction or not to probe war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories, “so that Israeli officials are made aware that, at last, their criminal actions will carry personal consequences.”

“Such a Decision will serve to secure justice for victims, deter further criminal action, and underline the Court’s objective commitment to the law as removed from politics,” he wrote.

Bill Clinton looks on as Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands during the signing of the Oslo Accords, September 13, 1993. (Photo: Courtesy of the GPO)

The Oslo Accords were signed in Washington in 1993. A follow-up agreement two years later, sometimes called Oslo II, set out the scope of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. The interim pact was only supposed to last five years while a permanent agreement was finalized, but it has tacitly been rolled over for more than two decades.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, whose opinion that the court does have jurisdiction to launch the probe is partially based on the Oslo Accords, has been ordered by the pretrial chamber to respond to the Palestinians’ response by June 14.

In a May 19 speech to Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, Abbas declared that the Palestine Liberation Organization and the State of Palestine are absolved of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the obligations based on these understandings and agreements.

The comments were made in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank in the framework of the US administration’s peace proposal. Abbas also said Israel would have to assume responsibility for the civilian Palestinian population.

“The Israeli occupation authority, as of today, has to shoulder all responsibilities and obligations in front of the international community as an occupying power over the territory of the occupied state of Palestine, with all its consequences and repercussions based on international law and international humanitarian law,” he said.

Abbas claimed Netanyahu’s remarks the day before about the planned extension of Israeli sovereignty over settlements and the Jordan Valley meant Israel had “annulled” the Oslo Accords, which established the PA and kicked off the decades-long peace process, “and all agreements signed with it.”

On April 30, ICC prosecutor Bensouda reiterated her position that Palestine is a state for the purposes of transferring criminal jurisdiction over its territory to The Hague.

It is now up to the pretrial chamber to rule on the matter. The three judges of that chamber — Péter Kovács of Hungary, Marc Perrin de Brichambaut of France and Reine Adélaïde Sophie Alapini-Gansou of Benin — have no set deadline to hand down their decision but are expected to do so within 90 days.

Last week, the pretrial chamber surprisingly issued a document saying that Abbas’s comments about no longer being bound by agreements with Israel came to its attention, and it “requests Palestine to provide additional information on this statement, including on the question whether it pertains to any of the Oslo agreements between Palestine and Israel.”

The chamber also “invite[d] Israel to respond to any additional information” Ramallah may provide by June 24.

But Jerusalem, which has long argued that Palestine is not a sovereign state and therefore cannot transfer criminal jurisdiction over its territory to the Hague, is unlikely to accept the judges’ offer, lest any formal engagement with the court be seen as legitimizing it.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denounced the ICC and declared thwarting a possible war crimes probe one of the new government’s top priorities.

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