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Palestinians ask ICC for Israel Probe  05/22 06:17

   THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- The Palestinian foreign minister asked the 
International Criminal Court on Tuesday to open an "immediate investigation" 
into alleged Israeli "crimes" committed against the Palestinian people.

   The step was sure to worsen the already troubled relations between the 
internationally backed Palestinian Authority and Israeli Prime Minister 
Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Peace talks have been frozen for over four 
years, and contacts between the two sides are minimal.

   Speaking to reporters at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands, Foreign Minister 
Riad Malki said he submitted the "referral" to the court during a meeting with 
the ICC's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

   The referral sought an investigation into Israeli policies in the West Bank, 
east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip since the state of Palestine accepted the ICC's 
jurisdiction in 2014, he said.

   This includes Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and east 
Jerusalem, as well as the recent round of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, where 
Israeli fire killed over 100 Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza 
border, Malki added.

   "There is a culture of impunity in Israel for crimes against Palestinians," 
Malki said. "This referral is Palestine's test to the international mechanism 
of accountability and respect for international law."

   The ICC has been conducting a preliminary probe since 2015 into alleged 
crimes in the Palestinian territories, including Israel's settlement policy and 
crimes allegedly committed by both sides in the 2014 Gaza conflict. Tuesday's 
referral could speed up a decision on whether to open a full-blown 
investigation that could ultimately lead to the indictment of high-ranking 
Israelis.

   The move comes with Israeli-Palestinian relations at their lowest point in 
years in the aftermath of the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem and the recent 
bloodshed on the Gaza border.

   Israel has said it was defending its border and accused Gaza's ruling Hamas 
militant group using the unrest to carry out attempted attacks and of using 
civilians as human shields.

   In response to Tuesday's move at the ICC, Israel said it took a "severe 
view" of the Palestinian request, calling it a "cynical" and "absurd" step. It 
accused the Palestinians of violent incitement against Israel and exploiting 
women and children as human shields. It also said the ICC had no jurisdiction 
in the case because Israel is not a member of the court.

   "Israel expects the ICC and its prosecutor not to yield to Palestinian 
pressure, and stand firm against continued Palestinian efforts to politicize 
the court and to derail it from its mandate," the Israeli statement said.

   Israel is not a member of the ICC, but its citizens can be charged by the 
court if they are suspected of committing crimes on the territory or against a 
national of a country that is a member. The ICC has recognized "Palestine" as a 
member state.

   While the ICC can indict suspects, it has no police force and has to rely on 
cooperation from member states to enforce arrest warrants.

   The Palestinians appear to have an especially strong case in the matter of 
settlements. In 2004, the United Nations' highest judicial organ, the 
International Court of Justice, ruled in an advisory opinion that the 
settlements breached international law.

   In late 2016, the U.N. Security Council also declared the settlements to be 
illegal.

   Over 600,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem --- 
territories sought by the Palestinians as parts of their future state. Israel 
captured both territories from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.

   Under international law it is illegal to transfer populations out of or into 
occupied territory.

   Israel claims east Jerusalem as an inseparable part of its capital --- 
though its annexation is not international recognized.

   Israel claims the West Bank is not occupied because it was captured from 
Jordan, not the Palestinians, and Jordan does not make a claim to the territory.

   Since the Palestinians never ruled the West Bank, Israel says this territory 
is disputed and its final status should be resolved in negotiations. It also 
claims that settlements can be torn down and therefore do not prejudice the 
final status of the territory. It notes that in the case of Gaza, for instance, 
it uprooted all settlements there when it withdrew in 2005. Israel also 
captured Gaza in the 1967 war.

   While the Gaza withdrawal removed some 8,000 settlers, the much larger 
population in the West Bank and east Jerusalem would be extremely difficult, if 
not impossible, to move.


(KA)

 
 
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