The West Bank-based Palestinian leadership has decided to file a war crimes complaint against Israel with the International Criminal Court over its settlement construction on land claimed by the Palestinians for their future state, a senior official said Monday.
Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the decision was made late Monday in a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and senior PLO officials.
It came after the US opened its new Israeli embassy in contested Jerusalem and 55 Palestinians were killed during clashes between Hamas-led rioters and Israeli troops on the Gaza border.
Erekat said the decision was made to sign the ICC referral “immediately.” Seeking a war crimes prosecution of Israel would signal a sharp deterioration in increasingly tense relations between the two sides.
The Palestinians have had standing at the court since the UN General Assembly recognized a “state of Palestine” as a non-member observer in 2012.
The “State of Palestine” officially joined the ICC in April 2015, and Palestinian leaders have urged the court several times to incriminate Israelis for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, citing settlement expansions in the West Bank and Israel’s last war against Hamas in Gaza
Erekat said the Palestinians will also join several international organizations in response to Israel and the US. Previous decisions of this nature were sharply opposed by the US and Israel, which said they were a violation of the Oslo Accords, which established the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The decision to file a war crimes complaint over settlement construction came after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas labeled the new US mission in Jerusalem a “settlement outpost.”
Abbas vowed that the Palestinians will not engage in peace talks mediated by the US “in any way, shape or form.”
He convened an emergency meeting in Ramallah following the dedication of the new embassy, which he said was “a new settlement outpost, just like the Israeli settlements,” and an “assault on our sovereignty, an assault on our established rights,” according to a translation from Al-Jazeera.
“Palestine is for the Palestinians and is not, as the Jews claim, the land of their ancestors,” Abbas said, echoing comments he made in several recent speeches, including an address earlier this month that was widely denounced as anti-Semitic.
The new US embassy is housed in the compound that was previously the US consulate in Arnona, at the southern edge of Jerusalem. The compound straddles the pre-1967 armistice border known as the Green Line.
Abbas also condemned the Israeli response to violence on the Gaza border, which 55 Palestinian protesters shot dead in clashes earlier in the day, according to Hamas’s Gaza Healthy Ministry.
“We call on the international community, and especially the Arab and Muslim states, to act and act swiftly” against the “massacres being perpetrated against our peaceful people,” Abbas said.
Erekat accused US President Donald Trump’s administration of “burying” peace hopes by moving the embassy, which he similarly branded an illegal “settlement outpost.”
“We also witnessed today a ceremony of the prime minister of Israel and the administration of President Trump burying the peace process, burying the two-state solution, killing the hope in the minds of the people of the Middle East as a whole with the possibility of peace,” Erekat said.
Earlier, he blasted the US administration ahead of the embassy move, saying Trump had violated a promise to hold off on moving the embassy to give peace talks a chance and that his administration was “based on lies.”
Erekat said the Trump administration has “become part of the problem, not part of the solution.” He indicated that Trump’s Mideast team was unqualified, saying, “The world needs real leaders, and those [White House officials] are real estate dealers, not leaders.”
The White House has defended recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with Trump’s chief Mideast peace negotiator saying the embassy move was a “necessary condition” to a lasting peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Jason Greenblatt wrote on Twitter that “the long-overdue step of moving our Embassy is not a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace deal.”
Tens of thousands of Palestinians joined the violent protests on the Gaza border on Monday and hundreds of others clashed with Israeli troops on the outskirts of Jerusalem and in other locations in the West Bank, marking the 70th anniversary of what they call the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” of Israel’s creation in 1948, as well as protesting the embassy relocation.
The IDF launched several airstrikes in the Strip, and cited three attempted attacks by armed men against Israeli forces during the riots — two teams of gunmen who opened fire at IDF soldiers and one group that tried to plant an improvised explosive device along the border.
Citing Hamas sources, Hadashot TV news said 10 of the terror group’s members were killed in the clashes, including a son of its co-founder Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi. The IDF’s spokesman said Hamas deployed 12 separate terrorist “cells” to try to breach the border at different locations, and that all were rebuffed.