Former ICC chief prosecutor: Investigation could take 18 months

"When I was prosecutor, Palestine tried to enter the International Criminal Court, and we debated the problem for three years," Luis Moreno Ocampo said.

Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) poses for pictures at The Hague, Netherlands October 26, 2016 (photo credit: MICHAEL KOOREN / REUTERS)
Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) poses for pictures at The Hague, Netherlands October 26, 2016
(photo credit: MICHAEL KOOREN / REUTERS)
The probe into allegations of war crimes committed by Israel in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem could take 18 months, Argentinian lawyer and former chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno Ocampo told an Israeli newspaper.
The ICC ruled on Friday that it holds jurisdiction to probe into war crimes charges against Israelis. Such war crimes suits could be leveled at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defense ministers and any other high-level officials involved in such activity since June 13, 2014. Soldiers and commanders could also be targeted.
"This is a conflict from 2009, and I worked on it for three years," Ocampo told Israel Hayom. "In my time, Palestine wasn't given the status of a state, but now the situation is different.
"When I was prosecutor, Palestine tried to enter the International Criminal Court, and we debated the problem for three years," Ocampo told the Israeli daily.
Ocampo added that the decision to investigate the allegations of war crimes took so long "because at the time, it wasn't a state. In October 2012, the [UN] General Assembly decided it was an observer state and a UN member, and in 2015, the Assembly [of States Parties] agreed that Palestine was a member-state," he told the paper.
"The investigation will continue for a year and half, so that there is a year to take advantage of this conflict and turn it into something positive," he said.
Ocampo was succeeded by the ICC's current Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. The matter now returns to her hands for further investigation as to whether war crimes suits could be filed.
Bensouda’s office tweeted Friday that it was “currently carefully analyzing the decision & will then decide its next step, guided strictly by its independent & impartial mandate & obligations under the #RomeStatute.”
The United States rejected the ruling, while Israel charged that the decision was antisemitic. The Palestinians welcomed the ruling as a historic move in the direction of accountability.
"We will fight this perversion of justice with all our might," Netanyahu said. 
It was appalling, he said, that “the same court established to prevent atrocities like the Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people is now targeting the one state of the Jewish people.”
This is particularly true, he said, when the “ICC refuses to investigate brutal dictatorships like Iran and Syria, who commit horrific atrocities almost daily.
“When the ICC investigates Israel for fake war crimes – this is pure antisemitism.”
Netanyahu attacked two of the main issues by which war crimes suits could be filed – settlement activity and military action in Gaza.
The ICC “outrageously claims that when Jews live in our homeland, this is a war crime,” Netanyahu said. It also “claims that when democratic Israel defends itself against terrorists who murder our children and rocket our cities – we are committing another war crime,” Netanyahu said.
Prime ministerial candidates Naftali Bennett and Gideo Sa'ar both spoke in condemnation of the investigation as well, with Bennett calling the ICC a "sham" and Sa'ar describing the probe as "shameful" and "disgraceful."
The PA had asked the ICC in 2015 to allow for war crimes suits to be filed against Israelis. It did so after signing that same year the Rome Statute, which governs the ICC. Neither Israel nor the US are parties to the statute.
The PA’s request also opened the door for war crimes suits to be filed against Palestinians, including Hamas, but Israel fears the court’s overwhelming focus will be on its citizens and leaders.

Zachary Keyser, Tovah Lazaroff, Tamar Beeri, Yonah Jeremy Bob, Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman and Khaled Abu-Toameh contributed to this report.