ICC prosecutor ‘concerned’ over Netanyahu’s West Bank annexation plans
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ICC prosecutor ‘concerned’ over Netanyahu’s West Bank annexation plans

Amid Palestinian calls for her to publish findings of 5-year preliminary investigation into conflict, Fatou Bensouda says she’s nearing conclusion

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, center, and Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart, right, attend the first audience with the chief of Central African Republic's soccer federation Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands on January 25, 2019. (Koen Van Well/Pool photo via AP)
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, center, and Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart, right, attend the first audience with the chief of Central African Republic's soccer federation Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands on January 25, 2019. (Koen Van Well/Pool photo via AP)

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court expressed concern on Thursday regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to annex the Jordan Valley.

In an annual report reviewing the status of the various conflicts into which her office has opened preliminary investigations, Fatou Bensouda wrote that she is “follow[ing] with concern proposals advanced during the recent electoral process, to be tabled to the Knesset, for Israel to annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly promised to quickly apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley — a quarter of the West Bank — if he is able to put together a new government amid the ongoing political gridlock. His Likud party has even claimed that the premier is only interested in staying in office for an additional six months — a unity coalition negotiation demand — in order to see the promise through.

Palestinian officials expressed “great concern” over Thursday’s report by Bensouda, which also included a warning that Palestinian stipends to attackers and their families could constitute a war crime.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said the prosecutor’s office’s report was “based on misleading narratives of a political nature … rather than an objective and accurate description of the relevant facts.”

Malki appeared to be referring to the report’s criticism of the stipends that the PA pays to the families of people killed or imprisoned as a result of fighting with Israel. The Palestinians say these payments are a national duty to families affected by decades of violence. But Israel argues the fund encourages violence by paying the families of attackers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a map of the Jordan Valley, vowing to extend Israeli sovereignty there if reelected, during a speech in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

It’s been roughly five years since the ICC launched a preliminary examination into the “situation in Palestine,” leading Palestinian officials to complain recently that Bensouda was dragging her feet.

Earlier this week, Malki said in an address to the ICC assembly that the length of the probe “has far exceeded the bounds of reason.”

“Impunity only breeds more criminality,” Malki added, referring to recent Israeli approvals for settlement expansion along with demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank. 

The PA foreign minister made the remarks at the annual meeting of the Assembly of States Parties, the governing body of the ICC. The assembly accepted the State of Palestine as its newest member on Monday.

Addressing Palestinian frustrations over the duration of her probe, Bensouda explained Thursday that the issue needed more time, but that a culmination was on the horizon.

“While the situation has been under preliminary examination for almost five years and has benefited from meaningful and constructive engagement with both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities, as well as numerous other actors, which have helped deepen the Office’s understanding and assessment of the situation, the Prosecutor also believes that it is time to take the necessary steps to bring the preliminary examination to a conclusion,” her report said.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad al-Malki, in a press conference on October 10, 2014. (Ala Mufarja / Wafa)

The preliminary examination was launched in 2015 after the PA signed the Rome Statute and formally accepted the court’s jurisdiction over its territory. It probes Israeli construction beyond the Green Line, the 2014 Gaza War and the so-called March of Return Gaza border protests that began in March 2018.

Separately, on Monday, Bensouda announced her refusal for the third time to open an investigation into the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, saying any crimes allegedly committed during the raid were not severe enough to merit such a probe.

On May 31, 2010, Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish citizens aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of several vessels that was aiming to break the Gaza blockade, after the soldiers were violently attacked by activists armed with clubs and metal bars when they boarded the vessel.

Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since 2007 — when the Hamas terror group ousted the Palestinian Authority from the Strip — in a bid to prevent Hamas and other terrorists from importing arms and weapons into the enclave.

Israeli officials have long argued that the ICC has no jurisdiction over its conflict with the Palestinians.

Responding to calls for the ICC to probe Israel for war crimes related to its use of live fire in response to riots by Palestinians along the Gaza border, IDF military advocate general Maj. Gen Sharon Afek said in May that the court has no standing so long as the Jewish state remains a country ruled by law.

Last year, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit revealed that he was drafting a legal opinion refuting the ICC’s legitimacy to discuss matters pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because “there is no Palestinian state.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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