The International Criminal Court has opened a formal probe into alleged war crimes committed in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, said in a statement Wednesday.
“Today, I confirm the initiation by the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court of an investigation respecting the situation in Palestine,” Bensouda said.
The prosecutor specified that the probe would “cover crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that are alleged to have been committed in the Situation since 13 June 2014, the date to which reference is made in the Referral of the Situation to my Office.”
Bensouda emphasized that in accordance with the ICC’s founding principles, investigations undertaken by her office are “conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favor,” and “cover all facts and evidence relevant to an assessment” on whether criminal activity has taken place.
The decision to undertake the investigation was made after carrying out what the prosecutor called a “painstaking preliminary examination” that took place over nearly five years in coordination with Palestinian and Israeli representatives.
The Palestinian Authority welcomed the ICC’s decision, with its foreign ministry calling it a “long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve.”
Israeli authorities blasted the earlier ruling, with Prime Minister Netanyahu accusing the court of “pure anti-Semitism” and slamming the ICC’s push to investigate what called “fake war crimes.” Benny Gantz, Israeli defense minister and junior partner in the Netanyahu-led government, similarly slammed the February ruling, calling its “grave” charges “unfounded” and promising to “act resolutely” to protect the Israeli military’s commanders and soldiers.
Bensouda’s announcement follows reports of an intense Israeli diplomatic campaign aimed at Tel Aviv’s allies to convey a “discreet message” to the prosecutor to attempt to pressure her not to proceed with a formal investigation.
The Biden administration expressed concerns over the probe, indicating that ‘Israel’ is not a party to the Rome Statute – the ICC’s founding treaty. A State Department spokesman said Washington would “continue to uphold President Biden’s strong commitment to ‘Israel’ and its security, including opposing sanctions that seek to target ‘Israel’ unfairly.”
Last week, Axios reported that Netanyahu had asked Biden to keep in place sanctions imposed on ICC officials by his predecessor’s administration.