Palestine Comes to Court

PHILADELPHIA – When, on December 31, the Palestinian Authority took the unprecedented step of applying to join the International Criminal court (ICC), Israel was quick to criticize the move as a provocation undermining any hope for peace. The truth is that it may be the PA, not Israel, that will come to regret the maneuver.

The PA asked to join the ICC for two reasons: to assert statehood (only states can be members of the ICC), and to use the court to investigate allegations of war crimes committed by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza.

The trouble for the Palestinians is that ICC membership cuts both ways. The court has jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity that occurred on member states’ territory or that were committed by their citizens. By joining the court, the Palestinian Authority has not only made it possible to prosecute Israeli crimes in Palestine; it has also opened the door to prosecution of crimes by Palestinians against Israelis or other Palestinians.

The Israel Defense Forces has often complained that it is fighting an asymmetric war in which it ties its own hands by complying with international humanitarian law, while its opponent can ignore those laws and launch attacks against Israeli civilians. The PA’s decision to join the court may well level the playing field.