The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations has formally submitted Palestine's application to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), the latest step in efforts to pursue war-crime charges against Israel.
Speaking at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Friday, Riyad Mansour said pursuing the case at The Hague would allow Palestine to "seek justice for all those killed by the Israeli occupier."
The move came two days after the application for membership was signed by President Mahmoud Abbas. It is expected to draw a harsh response from Israel and condemnation from the United States, which has warned the Palestinians that taking any steps toward international recognition could further impede the faltering peace process.
"We are honored that we are to be the 123rd state party to join the ICC, which will become effective about 60 days from now," Mansour said.
"It is a very significant step which we will be taking. It is a legal option, it is a peaceful option, it is a civilized option and it is an option that anyone who upholds the law should not be afraid of."
Under the Rome Statute, the document signed by Abbas on Wednesday in order to join the ICC, settlement is considered a war crime, Mansour said.
"We will be seeking justice through this stipulation in the Rome Statute, and other cases will be referred to the ICC as our leadership see fit as we move forward," he said, emphasizing that only recognized states are allowed to join the ICC.
But there is no guarantee that the cases requested by Palestine would be investigated. The ICC gets hundreds of requests each year and accepts just a tiny minority.
The Palestinians have said they could request ICC jurisdiction be granted retroactively to the creation of the court in 1998, to cover the full gamut of alleged Israeli transgressions. Whether or not the court will agree also remains unclear.
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.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, has held an emergency meeting with his senior ministers to discuss his government's response. Israel has insisted that all disputes should be resolved through peace talks and warned that joining the ICC would also expose Palestinians to prosecution.
"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 in Iraq and the Levant] which commits war crimes," Netanyahu said in a statement on Wednesday.
When asked about the possibility that Palestinian leaders, particularly members of Hamas, could also be pursued for war crimes at the ICC, Mansour called the threat "political posturing."
"We are not afraid of the judgment of the law, especially international law," he said.
With wire services