Palestinian Official Threatens International Court Action on Settlements

Ma'ale Adumim - Settlement near Jerusalem. Illustrative.

An aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned their government could go to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try and stop Israeli settlement growth, a provocative legal step the UK and others have urged the Palestinians not to take. Taking Israel to the ICC, which deals with claims of war crimes and other international offenses, would represent a significant escalation in the diplomatic campaign against Israel.

The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported that Abbas legal adviser Nimir Hamad said that the Palestinian authorities were planning to go to the UN Security Council to try and force Israel to stop their newest plans for settlement construction, and would turn to the ICC if the Security Council doesn’t act.

Israel has long maintained that the settlement issue should only be resolved in direct negotiations with the Palestinians, pointing to their withdrawals from Gaza and the Sinai as evidence that new construction is not an impediment to an agreement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following the recent announcements of settlement construction, further argued the territory is expected to remain under Israeli control in any negotiated compromise with the Palestinians.

Following the upgrade in the Palestinian status at the United Nations to non-member state, the possibility exists that the Palestinians might be able to join the ICC, which is reserved only for recognized states. The ICC only wields jurisdiction in nations that have accepted its authority. The US and Israel are among those who have not. The Palestinians have sought entrance to the ICC, but were turned down in April due to their non-state status.

A statement released on the ICC’s website last April specifically noted the Palestinians’ status as “observer” and not “non-member state” as one reason for the dismissal of the Palestinian petition. Should the ICC grant the Palestinians entrance, they would be able to seek ICC action on alleged crimes done on what the Court would recognize as their territory.

The ICC has not ruled on the Palestinian status since the UN upgrade, which granted the Palestinians an internationally-recognized state-status despite their lack of control over territory or a final status agreement with Israel. The US and Canada were among those who voted against the UN upgrade, while the UK joined dozens of others who abstained.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, December 19, 2012)