Foreign and Expatriates Minister Riyad al-Malki Tuesday called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an immediate investigation into Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Speaking to reporters at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said he submitted the "referral" to the court during a meeting with the ICC's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.
The ICC launched a preliminary probe into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2015.
Despite a visit to the region, the tribunal has yet to move to the next stage and open a full-blown investigation which could possibly lead to charges being brought. "This step [Palestine's call to the ICC] is meant to ensure that those most responsible for these crimes are held accountable for their actions without further delay", the ministry stated.
The Palestinian referral highlighted the issue of settlements, which the delegation termed in a statement "the single most risky threat to Palestinian lives and livelihoods". "Israel maintains, expands, and protects the settlement regime by committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people", it added. While Israel has not signed the Rome statute that established the court, if Israeli citizens commit worldwide crimes they may fall under the tribunal's authority.
"Given the gravity and intensification of crimes committed in the territory of the State of Palestine and the impunity with which Israeli officials and other citizens commit those crimes, it has become necessary for the State of Palestine to take this step", the statement added.
If Ms Bensouda does decide there are sufficient grounds to investigate, all sides would be subject to scrutiny and any future prosecution would be driven by the evidence rather than political pressure.
She said she must consider "issues of jurisdiction, admissibility and the interests of justice".
The State Department declined to say whether the move would trigger a closure of the PLO office in Washington under a provision in USA law that requires it to be closed if the Palestinians seek prosecution of Israelis at the ICC. "It is in line with steps adopted by the State of Palestine over the past years, in pursuit of justice and accountability, including joining worldwide human rights instruments", it added.
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