The State of Palestine says the International Criminal Court's decision to authenticate investigations against Israel will be a major step to ending impunity.
The court, based at The Hague in The Netherlands, on Friday ruled it has jurisdiction in Palestine, and permitted Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to investigate atrocities allegedly committed by Israeli soldiers.
Judges of Trial Chamber I accepted Ms Bensouda’s request after finding that Palestine was a valid member of the ICC and that the court’s jurisdiction extends to all territories initially in Palestine since 1967 and which Palestine claims were hived off by Israel.
“This is a historic day for the principle of criminal accountability,” said a statement from the Palestinian Embassy in Nairobi.
“The investigation that this decision has now facilitated sends a clear message to perpetrators of heinous crimes and their accomplices that they are not out of reach and that their crimes will not go unpunished.
“This decision conforms to the principles of international law and opens the door to the pursuit of criminal accountability for the most egregious crimes under the court’s mandate, which have been and continue to be committed against the Palestinian people.”
The decision was vehemently opposed by Israel, a non-member of the ICC. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government will protect all citizens, including soldiers, from what he called “legal persecution” by the court.
Ms Bensouda is seeking to investigate war crimes in Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Palestine, a member of the ICC since 2012, is not formally a sovereign state and required permission from the Court to proceed. It joined the ICC after the UN admitted it as an observer State, which means it doesn’t have a sovereign vote at the UN yet.
And while the ICC is not a UN organ, it may receive referrals from the UN Security Council on cases involving war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Ms Bensouda says she will be impartial and investigate both sides, including Israeli military and Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas, to determine the case.
The judges said the case is not an endorsement of borders between Israel and Palestine, but argued that the court will have legal authority on all territories occupied by Israel in Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Palestine said it will work with “all States Parties to the Rome Statute on protecting and defending the integrity and independence of the court from all attempts at exerting undue influence.
“The embassy also stands ready to cooperate with, and extend all assistance to the prosecutor and the court, during the investigation into Israeli crimes, which should start in short order.”
Israel is not a member of the ICC but the court has powers to prosecute individuals including from non-member countries, using UN treaties on human rights, genocide and war crimes.
An earlier attempt by the ICC to begin investigations against US troops was met with tougher responses from Washington. The then President Donald Trump barred ICC officials including Ms Bensouda from setting foot on US soil and threatened more sanctions if she pursued the investigation.
In Palestine, the prosecutor said she will focus on the recent war between Israel and Hamas from 2014, and alleged killings of civilians by Israeli soldiers.