The White House on Thursday said efforts to have Israel charged with war crimes at the International Criminal Court were “counterproductive” and would be opposed by Washington.
The statement came hours after Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki handed ICC prosecutors a file detailing alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza and relating to construction in the West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem.
The United States has “made clear that we oppose actions against Israel at the ICC as counterproductive,” National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said after the Palestinians submitted their evidence in The Hague.
The file, based on findings by a Palestinian commission of inquiry and information from non-government groups, feeds into a preliminary investigation by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda into possible crimes on Palestinian territory.
Israel earlier slammed the Palestinian move, calling it an “attempt to manipulate and politicize the judicial mechanisms of the ICC.”
“We hope that the prosecutor will not fall in that trap,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Bensouda’s initial probe aims to establish if there is enough evidence to merit opening a full-scale investigation that could ultimately lead to charges against both Israelis and Palestinians. It is not clear how long the process will take.
Malki said the information forms “a compelling case for the prompt opening of an investigation.”
He said it included details on Israel’s settlements and military offensive throughout the Palestinian-claimed territories, particularly last year’s Gaza war, and also outlined allegations of crimes committed against Palestinian prisoners.
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.
The move comes just days after a separate investigation by the UN Human Rights Council accused both sides of committing possible war crimes in last summer’s Gaza War. The council’s report is also being studied by investigators at the ICC.
The Palestinian Authority joined the international court this year. Israel is not a member and rejects the court’s authority.
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.
Earlier this week Shurat Hadin petitioned the ICC demanding that the court disqualify Bensouda from dealing with the matter because she has already made comments to the media about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, contravening the court’s own guidelines, the Hebrew-language Ynet website reported.