Palestinians will join the International Criminal Court: Official


international criminal court iccaA Palestinian official on Tuesday said the International Criminal Court is among the 63 international agencies and treaties the Palestine Liberation Organization will seek to join amid the collapse of peace talks with Israel.

“We will proceed with the [United Nations] treaties and gradually join different agencies and the last will be the International Criminal Court,” said Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the PLO’s central council, in a conference call with reporters. Such a move would allow the Palestinians to bring cases against Israel of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But in an illustration of the conflict among Palestinian factions, a senior official with the party that dominates the PLO on Tuesday denied such a move was at hand, saying the Palestinians want to avoid angering the U.S.

“Every single agreement that we sign or are going to sign will have so many implications on Israel, because each agreement indicates clearly what are the violations of international law that Israel is doing,” Mr. Barghouti told the call, which was organized by the nonprofit Institute for Middle East Understanding.

“What is wrong with us becoming a modern democracy that follows international law? [Israel] should welcome this,” he said.

Last week, Israel suspended peace talks and imposed economic sanctions on Palestinians over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s agreement to form a unity government with Hamas, the Islamist group that is Israel’s sworn enemy.

Mr. Barghouti indicated that the intention to join the ICC is an effort by the Palestinians to strengthen their position after the collapse of the peace negotiations.

The Palestinians have talked about joining the ICC before, but didn’t give Mr. Abbas the authority to seek to do so until Sunday and didn’t confirm until Tuesday that the ICC was on the list.

The move is another in a series of steps both sides have taken that U.S. officials say have snagged talks.

“The parties have taken unhelpful steps. They need to determine whether there’s a path forward,” State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said on Tuesday.

Azzam Al Ahmad, one of the Fatah leaders that is behind the tie-up with Hamas, on Tuesday played down the prospects of pursuing ICC membership. “To avoid annoying and confusing the United States, we decided to put joining the ICC issue away,” he said in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “We don’t want to look like the one that put up an obstacle.”

Israel has said any move to join international bodies is seen as bypassing negotiations for an independent state. It has denounced talk of the Palestinians joining the ICC in the past, and on April 10 cut off tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority, which Israel collects.

“We as Palestinians have to think of an alternative to the failing peace talks—an alternative that will fix the imbalance of power so that we reach a point where a solution is possible,” Mr. Barghouti said. Part of the strategy is “application to the U.N. agencies, and not only becoming members of all agencies and treaties, but also bringing Israel…in front of the world community for the crimes they are committing in violation of the Geneva Conventions.”

He said the Palestinians had agreed with Secretary of State John Kerry to refrain from joining U.N. treaties and agencies for nine months to allow negotiations with Israel to proceed. But he said the Palestinians decided to act after Israel reneged on an agreement to release a number of Palestinian prisoners.

Mr. Barghouti didn’t provide a timetable for seeking to join the additional U.N. treaties and agencies. On April 1, the Palestinians formally applied to the U.N. to join 15. On Sunday, the PLO central committee said it would seek to join 63 in all.

The Wall Street Journal has obtained a list of 48 additional treaties and agencies to which the Palestinians intend to apply. In addition to the ICC, the list includes the Law of the Sea and the convention on international civil aviation, which would give Palestinians legal control over their airspace and territorial waters off Gaza, U.N. officials confirmed. Israel maintains a naval blockade off Gaza.

The list also includes the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and conventions against the use of land mines and cluster munitions.

The Palestinians earned the right to seek to join U.N. agencies and treaties when the U.N. General Assembly voted in November 2012 to grant them nonmember, observer-state status.

“These treaty accessions will constitute a continuation and an escalation of the legal intifada by the Palestinians,” said Francis Boyle, a former PLO adviser and expert on international law at the University of Illinois.




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