International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan has told a conference of the court's Assembly of State Parties that he has a "goal" to make "a visit to Palestine" in 2023, it was publicly revealed on Wednesday.
The public statement, made sometime during this week’s conference, was Khan's first major step into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That said, maybe as a pragmatic nod to the fact that Israel protests any ICC involvement in the conflict, his wording was that he had a "goal," not that he was certain it would happen.
For example, he did not give any real concrete time period and mentioned Palestine along with other countries, like Afghanistan, which he hopes to visit – as opposed to making a specific commitment.
The Foreign Ministry declined to respond, though it has been pointed out that Israel has not received any official request to conduct a visit, which Jerusalem would need to receive since it controls the Palestinians’ borders.
Khan’s spokespeople had not responded by press time to clarify his intentions further.
In 2016, the ICC's team analyzing the Israel-Palestinian conflict was allowed to visit Israel and the West Bank, but that was before a 2021 decision which recognized Palestine as a state and the opening of a full criminal probe against Israelis.
The disclosure of Khan’s statement came one day after Al Jazeera filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court against members of the IDF over the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot and killed during an IDF operation in the West Bank in May.
The complaint came in the middle of the ICC’s high-profile annual meeting of its Assembly of State Parties which govern it and formulate its budget.
ICC's history with charges against Israel
In March 2021, then-ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a full criminal investigation against Israelis and Palestinians relating to the 2014 Gaza War, the 2018 Gaza border confrontations and against the Israeli settlement enterprise.
This latest complaint will now become a part of that broader file since only the ICC Prosecutor, and not any third party, can decide whether to proceed with criminal charges.
However, until Wednesday, current ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan had not taken any public action on the probe since he took office in June 2021.
It was unclear whether the statement was a signal of a change in policy or a throw-away statement while discussing a variety of issues.
Even multiple public filings by Khan to the Assembly of State Parties contained scant references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a statement, Al Jazeera said that it came to the decision to file the complaint after forming an "international legal coalition that consists of [Al Jazeera]'s legal team along with international legal experts."
In a statement, Al Jazeera said it came to the decision to file the complaint after forming an "international legal coalition that consists of [it]s legal team along with international legal experts."
"No one will investigate IDF soldiers and no one will lecture us about morals in wartime, especially not Al Jazeera."Yair Lapid
A forensic investigation of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was inconclusive, but several investigations conducted by multiple media organizations and independently by the IDF concluded that it was most likely a misfire by one of the IDF soldiers during the raid.
The Palestinian Authority was asked to conduct a joint investigation with Israel, but refused and has insisted, without specific evidence, that the killing was an intentional targeting of the journalist.
Last month, the FBI opened an investigation into the incident, a move that angered Israeli officials who argued that this set a highly problematic precedent for second-guessing a democratic country’s independent legal system.
"Al Jazeera vows to follow every path to achieve justice for Shireen, and ensure those responsible for her killing are brought to justice and held accountable in all international justice and legal platforms and courts."
Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that "no one will investigate IDF soldiers and no one will lecture us about morals in wartime, especially not Al Jazeera."
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Abu Akleh's death was "a clear wartime event that was investigated in the deepest and most thorough way.
"I suggest that...Al Jazeera first check what is happening to journalists in Iran and other countries in the area in which Al Jazeera is active," Gantz added, during a conference on education in the Knesset. "There is no army that acts as morally in wartime as the IDF and I want to emphasize my and the entire system's full backing for the commanders and soldiers who defend the citizens of Israel."
Israel does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC because it argues there is no "State of Palestine" to refer the file to the ICC in the first place, something the ICC Pre Trial Tribunal has resolved in favor of the Palestinians.
Still, the ICC cannot proceed against anyone if the country hosting the suspects in question has carried out its own independent investigations.
Lahav Harkov, Jerusalem Post Staff and Reuters contributed to this story.