A Palestinian delegation has asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch an investigation into what it says is “insurmountable” evidence of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on Palestinian territory.
The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki asked international prosecutors in The Hague on Tuesday for a referral on the back of an initial preliminary investigation launched in 2015.
If the request is granted, investigators could begin a full inquiry without first waiting for a judge’s approval.
“Through judicial referral we want … the office of the prosecutor to open without delay an investigation into all crimes,” Mr Maliki told media after a meeting with the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.
“Further delaying justice for Palestinian victims is also tantamount to denial of justice.”
The ICC recognised the state of Palestine in 2015, giving the court jurisdiction over crimes committed there since 13 June 2014.
Israel is not one of the 123 countries currently party to the ICC, but it is possible Israeli citizens and institutions could be prosecuted for alleged crimes on Palestinian land.
Palestinian petitions to the ICC to date have focused on cases related to 2014’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in the Gaza Strip – which killed 2,200 Palestinians, including 500 children – and Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
The request to expedite a formal investigation comes after 60 Palestinians were killed during protests on the Gaza-Israel border last week – the worst violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 war.
Israeli troops were ordered to use live fire if necessary on the 40,000 people who demonstrated against both the US’s embassy move to Jerusalem and the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, on 15 May – the Palestinian anniversary of Israel’s founding.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said the protests were being used by the Gaza-based militant group Hamas as cover for attacks on Israel.
The incident has been met with international condemnation. South Africa and Turkey both withdrew their ambassadors to Israel and the United Nations has launched an inquiry into what it said was a “wholly disproportionate” use of force.
At least 112 Palestinians have died and more than 13,000 have been wounded in protests over the past two months in the buildup to the Nakba and US embassy move. Last Friday saw continued demonstrations.
The willingness of Gazans to throw themselves into harm’s way betrays the desperation of the strip’s two million residents after almost 11 years of a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
The Trump administration’s steadfast friendship with Israel and the stalling of peace talks since 2014 are also fuelling growing Palestinian disillusionment with the peace process.
The Palestinian Authority officially cut relations with the US after President Donald Trump announced his country would recognise the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December, declaring Washington was no longer an “honest broker” for peace.
In recent years Palestinian officials have begun to explore other avenues that might result in international recognition of Palestinian statehood, such as with the ICC and Unesco, the UN’s world heritage body.
A statement from the Israeli foreign ministry said that the Palestinian request to the ICC was a “cynical step” without legal validity.
“The ICC lacks jurisdiction over the Israeli-Palestinian issue, since Israel is not a member of the court and because the Palestinian Authority is not a state,” it said.
The ICC, which opened in 2002, was designed as a court of “last resort”. It is only supposed to step in when a state is unwilling or unable to investigate crimes on its territory.