AP - The International Criminal Court prosecutor on Tuesday rejected a bid by the Palestinian authority to clear the way for the permanent war crimes tribunal to investigate the Gaza conflict that began in December 2008.
The long-awaited written ruling by Luis Moreno-Ocampo also is a setback to Palestinians’ campaign for international recognition as an independent state.
The Palestinian Authority unilaterally recognized the court’s jurisdiction in January 2009 and prosecutors have been mulling ever since whether to accept that recognition, the first step in a process that could have finished with Israel being investigated for possible war crimes.
Under the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, only internationally recognized states can join the court. Prosecutors listened to lawyers supporting the Palestinian bid and Israel’s rejection of it before reaching Tuesday’s decision.
In a statement, the prosecutor said it is up to “relevant bodies at the United Nations” or the group of nations that makes up the court to determine whether Palestinians can sign up to the Rome Statute.
The court can only launch investigations if asked by the U.N. Security Council or an involved state that has recognized the court. Israel has never recognized its jurisdiction.
Amnesty International and other groups accused Israel of committing war crimes by killing civilians and firing white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas, among other actions, during the conflict between Israeli forces and Hamas militants that erupted late in 2008.
Human Rights Watch called for an international investigation into allegations of war crimes by both Israel and Hamas.
Israel launched its three-week offensive with the aim of ending years of Hamas rocket fire at southern Israel. It left nearly 1,300 Palestinians dead, more than half of them civilians, according to Gaza officials. Thirteen Israelis were killed, including three civilians.
NGO Monitor, an Israeli watchdog that focuses on non-governmental organizations critical of Israel, hailed the ruling as “a strong rebuke” to rights groups who had lobbied on behalf of the Palestinian bid.
“International arenas are routinely hijacked for political purposes, but today’s decision was markedly different,” said Anne Herzberg, legal adviser for NGO Monitor.