For three years, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hague has been trying to decide whether he had jurisdiction over Israel for alleged war crimes in Gaza. Even though the legal answer (“NO”) seemed obvious from the start, both politics and the inevitable expansionist agendas of international courts kept the question alive and Israel potentially subject to the Court.
Finally this week the Prosecutor announced that he would not pursue the investigation of Israel “for acts committed on the territory of Palestine since 1 July 2002.” For now, this closes off yet another legal front of attack on Israel, and also thwarts another end-run by Palestine around the path by which Palestinian statehood is supposed to be resolved; namely the Middle East peace process and the United Nations.
The interesting question is why it took so long for the Prosecutor to reach what seemed like a no-brainer outcome from the start. In January 2009, the Palestinian Minister of Government filed a submission with the ICC asking the Court to take jurisdiction over Israel’s actions in Gaza. But the Court’s own rules require that any matters submitted must come from a “State.” Since Israel is not a party to the treaty creating the Court (nor is the U.S. and 70 or so other nations), and since Palestine is neither a party nor a State, it seemed obvious to most international lawyers that the ICC had no jurisdiction over the matter.