After a cease-fire ended the fifty day war between Gaza and Israel, Palestine wants to bring charges against Israeli individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Therefore, Palestine has an important decision to make: become a state to the Rome Statute, which grants the ICC jurisdiction, or remain a non-member observer state and submit another ad hoc declaration to the ICC, which grants the ICC jurisdiction. To understand the arguments circling Palestine’s decision, it is important to know the history of the Gaza conflict.
The Palestine-Arab and Israel conflict (“Gaza conflict”) began after WWII when Jewish people wanted their own country and were given land in Palestine. In 1967, Israel went to war and gained authority over the Gaza Strip from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan: two territories that were heavily populated by Palestinian-Arab persons. In 2005, Israel “removed” its troops and a group called Hamas rose to power. Most countries, including the United States, consider Hamas a terrorist organization. The Hamas group refuses to recognize Israel as a country, and wants Palestinians to have their original land back and is not afraid to use violence to get it. With the rise of Hamas, Israel is a target and unsafe, therefore, Israel has been holding Gaza under a blockade, controlling Gaza’s coastline and the Gaza-Israel border. This blockade has resulted in many effects for over a million Palestinians: unemployment, hunger, and poverty.
Thus, the main Palestinian demand is for the blockade to be lifted. Furthermore, Palestinians want prisoners released, reconstruction, and rights to fish off the Gaza coast. Conversely, Israel wants Hamas to recognize it and ensure its safety.
Now with a better understanding of the Gaza conflict, this brings us to the current issue: should Palestine grant the ICC jurisdiction either by accession to the Rome Statute or submitting another ad hoc declaration without accession? Because an ad hoc declaration does not obligate the prosecutor to open an investigation, accession is a better option. Accession will allow Palestine to seek judicial review if the prosecutor exercises her discretion and does not proceed with an investigation. However, under the Rome Statute, the UN Security Council can prohibit the prosecutor and the court from launching an investigation by passing a Chapter VII Resolution every twelve months. Added in 1998, this provision allows sensitive political negotiations (in this case, peace talks in the Middle East) to outweigh justice. As Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch, points out this balancing test should not apply to the current conflict: “[t]he argument that Palestine should forego the ICC because it would harm peace talks rings hollow when 20 years of talks have brought neither peace nor justice to victims of war crimes.” Furthermore, “[t]he US, Israel and others who are pressuring Palestine not to seek the ICC’s jurisdiction cannot credibly argue that continued impunity for serious international crimes will help bring the conflict to an end.”
If Palestine decides to accession to the Rome Statute, it should determine whether it can secure a veto from one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in case a Chapter VII Resolution is submitted. Because countries like the U.S., the U.K., and France are opposed to Palestine becoming a state, it is likely that a Chapter VII Resolution would be submitted, and if a veto cannot be secured, then there is hardly a point to accession.
In July 2014, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) announced that at the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s annual meeting in August, PLO would request that Israel be designated an apartheid state because of its policies and measures against Palestine. If Israel is labeled an apartheid state, would this cause countries to shift from opposing Palestine’s enlistment of the ICC to supporting Palestine’s enlistment?
If Palestine becomes its own state, like Hamas wants, what will happen to Israelis who live in the current territory, such as the West Bank? And if the ICC is granted jurisdiction by Palestine, but Israel remains in control of Gaza, can the ICC conduct a proper investigation?
Cheyenne Moore is a 2L at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law, and Survey Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.