Palestinians Preparing to Take Israel to International Criminal Court

Palestinians Preparing to Take Israel to International Criminal Court

Phylis Bennis: With UN non-member state status Palestine can now follow through and take Israel before the ICC for war crimes -   January 24, 2013
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Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. She is the author of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer, Before and After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11 Crisis, Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer and Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer. Her most recent book is Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer.


Palestinians Preparing to Take Israel to International Criminal CourtJESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

The Palestinian foreign minister has threatened to take their disputes to the International Criminal Court. Here to discuss all this is Phyllis Bennis.

Phyllis is a fellow and the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She's the author of the books Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the War on Terrorism and Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.

Thank you for joining us, Phyllis.


DESVARIEUX: So, Phyllis, give us an update. What do you make of this threat by the Palestinian foreign minister?

BENNIS: Well, it certainly is nothing new and different for Palestinians to talk about the need for Israeli accountability for potential violations of international law and war crimes. This has been on the agenda for some years now. And the question has been: when can Palestine become a member of the International Criminal Court so it can begin the process of trying to hold Israel accountable for those war crimes, for those violations?

The new position came from the foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority, Riyad Maliki, and it's significant because while there has been discussion by a lot of Palestinians in civil society organizations and elsewhere, there has not been so much discussion from the top levels of the PA itself.

The specific threat, if you want to call it a threat—I mean, saying that somebody should be accountable doesn't seem really like a threat, but okay. The most recent statement from the Palestinians was based on the idea that if Israel goes ahead with its threats to build new settlements in what is known as area E1 outside of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, that would be what Maliki called trespassing a red line and would result in the Palestinians going to the International Criminal Court.

I don't know exactly what red line he is referring to. The Israeli violations have been going on for many, many years, for many, many decades. But if they want to say that at this point it's enough that we would bring it to the International Criminal Court, that would be very good.

They can't simply announce that. They have to go through a number of processes, the most important one of which would be to apply for membership in the International Criminal Court to become a signatory to what's known as the Rome Treaty. That was the treaty that established the court back in 1995.

The issue has always been that Palestine is not a state. Any state can sign the treaty, and you don't have to be a member of the United Nations, but you do have to be a state. So the question was always: well, who decides what's a state? Palestine tried to join the court a couple of years ago, and the prosecutor and the top officials of the court took it under consideration and ended up saying that it wasn't clear enough that Palestine was indeed a state.

But now, after the initiative last fall at the United Nations, when the Palestinians asked for and received a rousing endorsement from the General Assembly that Palestine is now considered a nonmember state at the United Nations—the membership is not relevant, but the state is very relevant—that is essentially a UN acknowledgement that Palestine is indeed a state on the territory occupied in 1967, meaning all of the West Bank, including where the settlements are, all of the Gaza Strip, and all of occupied East Jerusalem. So that is now recognized by the UN as a state. And as a state, there's no reason in the world why Palestine can't simply sign on to the Rome Treaty and become a member of the International Criminal Court.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. What do you make of the timing of this announcement, especially in the wake of Israeli election?

BENNIS: Well, I think that the timing was driven less by the elections—in fact, that gave Riyad Maliki and the PA a sort of excuse to delay further, to say, well, we'll wait and see what the new government does when the new government is formed. But it was kind of putting that new government, the potential new government that will still be led by Bibi Netanyahu, on notice of their intention to go to the International Criminal Court.

I think the real motivating factor in terms of timing had to do with the growing crisis in the West Bank in particular and the fact that the PA had lost so much of its authority and credibility in recent years but had reclaimed much of that through the UN initiative last fall. The fact that it succeeded in winning a recognition of statehood for Palestine at the UN was widely applauded by Palestinians, particularly in the occupied territories, but also those in the diaspora among Palestinian exiles and refugees. And one of the real reasons why was precisely this question of a way to bring Israel to account, to hold Israel to account in the International Criminal Court. So this is a way of maintaining that credibility by answering the demand of Palestinians themselves to move forward, to hold Israel accountable in a way that it's never been held accountable before.

DESVARIEUX: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Phyllis.

BENNIS: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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