After failing to convince the United Nations Security Council to vote on placing a deadline to end Israel's occupation on territories it conquered in 1967, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed documents necessary for joining international organizations including the International Criminal Court (ICC) at a meeting Wednesday in Ramallah.
Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), said in a statement that the move was done “to ensure the protection and advance the rights of our people.”
The decision sets the stage for filing a war crimes case against Israel for its actions in Gaza. “There must be accountability, and those who are concerned about courts should stop committing crimes,” Erekat said.
"The one who needs to fear the International Criminal Court in The Hague is the Palestinian Authority, which has a unity government with Hamas, a terror organization like (the Islamic State group) which commits war crimes," Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
U.S. State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said the United States strongly opposed the move and warned it would be "counter-productive and do nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state."
"It will badly damage the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace," Vasquez said in a statement.
Abbas has been under intense pressure to take action against Israel following months of tensions fueled by the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks, a 51-day war between Israel and Palestinian fighters in Gaza, a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets and Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to a key Muslim holy site in Jerusalem. Tuesday's defeat in the U.N. Security Council further raised pressure on Abbas to act.
"We want to complain. There's aggression against us, against our land. The Security Council disappointed us," Abbas said as he gathered a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.
Diana Buttu, a former legal advisor to the PLO, told Al Jazeera “this is a good step in the right direction to hold Israel accountable and to start pushing the world to start isolating Israel.”
Prosecuting Israeli officials for war crimes at the ICC may be unlikely, but Buttu believes Israel will still take notice.
“This move will now make Israel take notice and recognize that it can’t continue to behave as business as usual violating Palestinian human rights and perpetrating war crimes.”
Abbas had threatened to join the international court if Tuesday's Security Council resolution failed. The Palestinians had asked the council to set a three-year deadline for Israel to withdraw from all occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians.
Buttu believes that the Palestinians were surprised the U.N. Security Council resolution did not pass, especially since it did not specify any punitive actions if Israel failed to meet to a proposed deadline to the occupation.
Abbas “may have recognized finally that the United States is never going to come to Palestine’s aid or rescue and that it’s always going to stand with apartheid Israel,” Buttu said.
Osamah Khalil, professor of U.S. and Middle East history at Syracuse University, said that joining the ICC is "only meaningful if Abbas actually uses it to hold Israel accountable for its repeated violations of international law and Palestinian rights."
"Otherwise, it will be little more than a symbolic gesture that will not change Israel's behavior or force Washington to engage in a meaningful way," Khalil said.
Al Jazeera with wire services