Israel's fear that Palestinian recognition by the International Criminal Court would bring unwelcome scrutiny of its military actions took a step closer to fruition on Friday, when the the ICC announced a preliminary probe into possible war crimes committed in occupied territories.
Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda vowed “full independence and impartiality” in "examining the information available." The probe was procedural, she said, and would determine whether evidence of possible war crimes by Israel or by Palestinian entities required formal investigation.
The announcement follows the Palestinian Authority’s agreeing to the court's founding treaty and recognizing its jurisdiction dating back to the eve of last summer's Gaza war. Israel is not party to the treaty, nor is the United States.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas signed the treaty over the fierce objections of Israel and the U.S., after a U.N. Security Council resolution setting a deadline for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied since 1967 failed to achieve sufficient votes. Abbas has been under heavy domestic pressure to indict Israel through the ICC after Israel's 50-day military campaign in Gaza, during which some 2,200 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed.
Israel retaliated to Abbas' decision by freezing the transfer of more than $100 million in tax revenues owed to the Palestinians, and Tel Aviv's supporters on Capitol Hill are pressing for the U.S. to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority.
While Palestinian membership in the ICC doesn't automatically incur U.S. punishment, existing legislation requires that any Palestinian case brought against Israel at the court could trigger an immediate cutoff of U.S. financial support.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour has said Palestinians will also seek ICC action over continued Israeli settlement in occupied territory, which is deemed illegal by the U.N. Security Council.
Bensouda cast the decision to open a preliminary probe as procedural, following the Palestinians' recognition of the court. It is unclear how long the preliminary examination might take. She said, "There are no timelines" set in the court's founding treaty.
Al Jazeera and wire services