THE HAGUE: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al Malki said there was “clear evidence” of war crimes by Israel during its offensive in Gaza as he met International Criminal Court prosecutors yesterday to push for an investigation.
Malki visited The Hague shortly after Israel and the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement that dominates Gaza entered a 72-hour truce mediated by Egypt.
Last week, the United Nations launched an inquiry into human rights violations and crimes alleged to have been committed by Israel during its offensive, given the far higher toll of civilian deaths and destruction on the Palestinian side.
“Everything that has happened in the last 28 days is clear evidence of war crimes committed by Israel, amounting to crimes against humanity,” Malki said. “There is no difficulty for us to show or build the case. Evidence is there for people to see and collect. Israel is in clear violation of international law.”
Israel said it did its utmost to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza but accused Hamas of putting its people in harm’s way by launching rockets from within densely populated districts.
Malki told reporters that the Palestinian Authority (PA) wanted to give the ICC jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes by both sides in the Gaza conflagration and that he had discussed a timeline with prosecutors to join the court.
Unless the Palestinians do so, no investigation is possible.
Malki said the PA’s status as an observer state at the United Nations, granted by the General Assembly in 2012, qualified it to become an ICC member and that the decision on whether to apply could happen “very soon”.
But he pointed to possible complications by saying this could go ahead only with the cooperation of Hamas, which is shunned by the West as a designated terrorist group and is a strong political rival of the Western-backed PA, which governs only in parts of the West Bank not occupied by Israel.
By joining the court, the Palestinian territories would automatically open themselves up to war crimes both committed by adversaries and by themselves within their borders.
“We want really to be assured that if we undertake that decision (for ICC membership), then all Palestinian factions adhere to that decision and know in advance its consequences and ramifications,” Malki said.
“If it (includes) action committed by Palestinian groups (against Israelis), then we are ready to accept that. But nothing compares to the atrocities, the carnage, committed by Israel,” he added, accusing Israel of destroying schools, hospitals and water grids in Gaza during its incursion.
Analysts say Hamas was unlikely to agree to ICC membership if it meant the possibility of its leaders being prosecuted in The Hague for what they consider legitimate defence against Israeli occupation.
Israel declined public comment on Malki’s remarks. But a senior Israeli official who asked not to be identified said any ICC legal action against Israel over Gaza would prompt an Israeli counter-suit at the ICC against the Palestinians.
As neither Israel nor the Palestinians are ICC members, the court lacks jurisdiction over Gaza. This could be granted in a UN Security Council resolution, but Israel’s main ally, the United States, would have the power to veto any such proposal.