Palestine is not a state, and therefore does not qualify for membership in the International Criminal Court, the State Department said on Wednesday.
The US will oppose the Palestinian Authority’s move to join the body, and several others at the United Nations, as technically flawed, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
“It doesn’t qualify to join the ICC,” Psaki told reporters.
That US position stakes out a legal argument for denying ICC membership to the Palestinian Authority – or, at a minimum, for future legal battles over the court’s jurisdiction in the West Bank – after PA President Mahmoud Abbas signed the Rome Statute of the court on December 30.
But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday said the Palestinians would become ICC members as of April 1, which would subject Israelis to accusations of war crimes filed by any ICC member state. The PA, as well, may now face accusations of perpetrating war crimes.
The Obama administration has said in recent days that the PA’s ICC bid runs contrary to the pursuit of peace, and is a major setback to the diplomatic process. American officials are also examining whether the move violates US appropriations law for the continuation of Palestinian aid.
Washington provides roughly $400 million to the PA on an annual basis.
Israel, which over the weekend froze the transfer of some NIS 500m. in tax revenue to the PA in response to the ICC move, had no reaction to the UN announcement that the PA would join the ICC.
The president of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, Senegal’s Justice Minister Sidiki Kaba, late on Wednesday “welcomed the deposit by the State of Palestine of the instruments of accession to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” after being notified by Ban that he had officially received the Palestinians’ application.
A statement said that “the deposit of the instruments of accession by the State of Palestine,” effected as of January 2, had brought the number of state parties to the Rome Statute to 123.
Kaba added, “Each ratification of the Rome Statute constitutes welcome progress towards its universality. I call on all members of the United Nations to join this permanent and independent system of international justice to fight against impunity and prevent the most serious crimes under international law, which is based on the principle of complementarity with domestic jurisdictions.”
The statement noted that in “a related development, the government of Palestine accepted, by means of a declaration under article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, the ICC jurisdiction” on June 13.
It added that on Wednesday, the ICC registrar addressed a letter “to the government of Palestine accepting this declaration and transmitted it to the prosecutor for her consideration.”
Last Friday, the Palestinians delivered to UN headquarters documents on joining the Rome Statute of the ICC and other international treaties.
The announcement of the date of the Palestinian accession to the ICC, in the form of a letter from Ban, was posted on a UN website.
The PA government signed the Rome Statute on December 31, a day after its resolution calling for a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines within three years failed to gain enough votes in the UN Security Council.