The Palestinians on Monday officially became observers at the summit meeting of the 122 countries that are members of the International Criminal Court, a move they say is a step toward joining the world's permanent war crimes tribunal.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to seek membership in the ICC in order to press charges against Israel for alleged war crimes.
The Palestinian United Nations ambassador, Riyad Mansour, said his government is moving in that direction "but that's another step in that process," and the timing will be decided by Abbas.
"The Palestinians have been promising to join the court but have repeatedly delayed action," said Balkees Jarrah, international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. "We've been calling on them to join the court which could open up the prospect of justice for serious crimes by all sides."
The Palestinians' official acceptance as an observer at the two-week meeting came in a procedural move at the opening session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute that established the ICC.
Tina Intelmann, the assembly's outgoing president, read a list of states that have not signed or ratified the statute that requested to participate as observers including Russia, China, India and the state of Palestine. With a bang of the gavel, all those on the list were approved by consensus.
William Pace, convener of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, which includes 2,500 civil society organizations in 150 countries, said "the significance is both the request and approval without objection," though he said there were no grounds to object.
That's because the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in November 2012 to upgrade the Palestinians' status from a U.N. observer to a non-voting member state, which allows it to be an observer under the rules of the Assembly of States Parties and to ratify the Rome statute and to accept its jurisdiction, Pace said. Previously, the Palestinians could attend as an "entity" without those rights.
The Associated Press