Abbas signs Rome Statute, paving way for possible war crimes probe against Israel at ICC

In response to failure of UN draft resolution PA leader signs to join International Criminal Court.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas heads attends a joint meeting of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas heads attends a joint meeting of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday evening signed applications for Palestinian membership in 20 international organizations and treaties, including the International Criminal Court.
Abbas’s move came in response to the failure of the Palestinian statehood resolution at the UN Security Council on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to respond to the move, and the White House called the Palestinian decision “deeply troubling.”
Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat announced that the applications to join the international organizations and treaties would go into effect in 90 days.
Abbas signed the applications at the beginning of an emergency meeting of PLO and Fatah leaders in Ramallah to discuss the repercussions of the Security Council vote.
The Palestinian leaders voted unanimously in favor of the decision to join international organizations and treaties.
The signing ceremony was broadcast live on Palestine TV.
Referring to the decision to join the ICC, Abbas said, “We want to file a complaint [against Israel]. We are being attacked. Our lands are being attacked every day. Who are we going to complain to? The Security Council has let us down. There’s an international organization and we’re going to it to complain.”
Netanyahu will convene an urgent meeting in his office on Thursday to weigh responses to the Palestinian decision.
The prime minister, in his initial reaction to the move, said the Fatah-dominated PA, which is in a unity government with Hamas, should be more concerned about the ICC than Israel. He said that Israel would respond – though he did not give any indication of how it would do so – and would defend the soldiers of the IDF, “the most moral soldiers in the world.”
By contrast, Netanyahu said Hamas was an avowed terrorist organization that – like Islamic State – commits war crimes.
“We will rebuff this additional effort to impose a diktat on us, just as we rebuffed Palestinians efforts in the UN Security Council,” he said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was blunter, saying that even a “deaf, blind and mute judge” knows that the Palestinians have been responsible for the “indiscriminate murder of men, women, children and babies for the last 100 years.”
Abbas can sign onto all the treaties he wants to, Liberman said in a Facebook post, but “the only ones committing war crimes in this conflict are the Palestinians themselves.”
Abbas “should not threaten us, the country with the most moral army in the world,” the foreign minister wrote.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said of Abbas that he who has “terrorism spread on his head should not go out into the sunshine.”
Abbas is “one of the great inciters of terrorism, and a veteran Holocaust denier, who should come to the court only as a defendant,” Bennett said.
The Obama administration stood strongly opposed to what it called Abbas’s “entirely counterproductive” move.
“We are deeply troubled by today’s Palestinian action regarding the ICC,” Jeff Rathke, director of the Office of Press Relations at the State Department, said.
“It is an escalatory step that will not achieve any of the outcomes most Palestinians have long hoped to see for their people. Actions like this are not the answer,” Rathke said, calling the latest move “badly damaging” and one of many that “undermine trust and create doubts about their commitment to a negotiated peace.”
The US seeks to facilitate a resumption of peace talks toward a two-state solution for two peoples, and hopes both sides will avoid taking further steps that make matters worse, he said.
“Hard as it is, all sides need to find a way to work constructively and cooperatively together to lower tensions, reject violence, and find a path forward,” Rathke said.
Earlier, Abbas said he was determined to pursue his efforts to achieve a Palestinian state despite the failure at the Security Council.
Speaking to Fatah supporters at a rally in Ramallah marking the 50th anniversary of the group’s first attack on Israel, Abbas said: “The Security Council is not the end of the world. Last night’s session was not the end of the journey. We have something to say about this as of tonight. We and our children will continue until we arrive at Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian state.”
Hamas on Wednesday welcomed the PA’s actions as a “step in the right direction.”
A statement issued by Hamas in the Gaza Strip said that the move should be part of a “general policy frame and joint national project” endorsed by an interim leadership of the PLO.
Hamas said the decision should be followed by a series of steps, including halting all forms of contact with Israel, especially security coordination, and the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
In his speech, Abbas claimed that Tuesday’s statehood bid failed because it had been “vetoed.”
Actually, the resolution did not pass because only eight Security Council members voted in favor of it, one short of the required nine, and so the US did not have to decide whether to veto the measure.
Nevertheless, Abbas told the Fatah gathering: “Last night we got a veto. This is not the first and last veto. But we will remain steadfast and we will continue until we achieve our rights. They don’t want to give us our rights.
Rights are not given; they are extracted.”
There would be no Palestinian state without Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, he said.
Voicing deep disappointment over the outcome of the Security Council vote, several Palestinian officials criticized the US for opposing the statehood bid.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi denounced the Security Council as “outrageously shameful.”
It is “ironic that while the UN designated 2014 as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, the resolution failed to pass, as an indication of a failure of will by some members of the international community,” she said.
The articles of the Palestinian draft resolution are consistent with declared American policy, international law and the requirements of peace, Ashrawi said.
“The extent to which the US has gone to protect Israeli impunity and lawlessness and to enable its criminal behavior is disgraceful and dangerous,” she added.
Erekat said that the resolution is “fully in line with international law.”
Certain countries “continue to ensure impunity to the Israeli occupation and its severe international law violations by not voting in favor of the resolution,” he said.
Despite their plans, the Palestinians still have many hoops to jump through before Israelis could be seen in the dock at The Hague. The ICC prosecutor must recognize “Palestine” as a full member and accept its signature to the Rome Statute. The Palestinians must officially file a complaint against individual Israeli soldiers and leaders. The ICC prosecutor must decide, based on the complaint, to order a preliminary examination and then a full criminal investigation, and then make the decision to indict.
Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute or the ICC and, like some other countries that have directly or indirectly ignored the ICC, could choose not to give its citizens or evidence over for trials.
Michael Wilner in Washington and Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.