The Palestinian Authority, Hamas and several Palestinian factions welcomed Friday’s announcement by International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that “war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”
Bensouda, in a statement, said: “I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine, pursuant to article 53(1) of the [Rome] Statute.” She said she has asked the ICC’s pre-trial chamber to rule on the question whether the ICC has jurisdiction to hear the case, given the special circumstances relating to the territory in question.”
PA President Mahmoud Abbas described the announcement as a “great day” and said the ICC would now agree to look into cases previously submitted by the Palestinians against Israel.
“I congratulate our people for this decision,” Abbas said. “This is a historic day, and now any Palestinian affected by the occupation could file a case with the International Criminal Court.”
Several Palestinian factions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip also separately welcomed the announcement, expressing hope it would result in the indictment of Israeli politicians, and IDF soldiers and officers for their alleged role in “war crimes.”
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said the decision by the ICC prosecutor to request an opinion by the pre-trial chamber “regarding the scope of the court’s territorial jurisdiction in Palestine is a positive and encouraging step.” The move, Erekat said, “brings us closer to the opening of a criminal investigation into the war crimes committed in Palestine, putting an end to the impunity of the perpetrators and contributing to the achievement of justice. It is a message of hope to our people, the victims of those crimes, that justice is indeed possible.”
Erekat warned any delay in opening the investigation against Israel would “result in more suffering for the Palestinian people as a result of the daily crimes of the Israeli occupation.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a PLO Executive Committee member, welcomed the announcement by the ICC prosecutor as a “positive step forward.” The Palestinians, she said, “view this as an announcement on the impending and long overdue opening of an investigation into the situation in Palestine.”
Ashrawi said she believes the ICC does have jurisdiction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip “by virtue of Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute and our communication with the court five years ago granting it such jurisdiction.” She expressed hope that the prosecutor’s request to the pre-trial to rule on the issue of jurisdiction would conclude positively and expeditiously.
Ahmed Majdalani, a senior PLO official in Ramallah, praised the ICC announcement, saying it marked “the beginning of putting the occupation on trial.” The Palestinians, he added, have been waiting for this day for a long time. According to Majdalani, the Palestinians have prepared several files that would be submitted to the ICC concerning Israeli “war crimes.”
PA Minister of Justice Mohammed Shalaldeh said the announcement marked the beginning of “achieving international justice.” The announcement, he said, is also a warning to those who think they can commit war crimes and crimes against humanity without being held to account.
The ruling Fatah faction called the announcement a “step in the right direction towards achieving justice and prosecuting Israeli war criminals.”
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas praised the ICC announcement as a milestone in the life of the Palestinians and the Palestinian issue.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said his movement was prepared to facilitate the work of – and cooperate with - any ICC mission investigating Israeli “crimes” against the Palestinians. “This important announcement needs to be translated into action on the ground,” Barhoum said.
Senior Hamas official Ahmed Bahr called on the ICC to immediately launch an investigation into Israeli “war crimes.”