Palestine inches closer to joining ICC

The central reason that Palestine has not yet signed up to the International Criminal Court (ICC), much as it might like to, is that it is still not widely enough accepted as a sovereign state. This could all be about to change, should an apparently inconsequential vote at the UN get passed.

It’s actually not really true that Palestine is not widely recognised as a sovereign entity. In fact, at last count, 130 of the 193 member states of the UN recognised the country for what it is. One might justifiably argue, therefore, that it is indeed a country – and therefore damn well has the right to independently sign up any international treaty that takes its fancy. The issue is that the countries that matter – most notably, the United States – do not recognise Palestine as a legal state in its own right.

The stance of the US is a particular consideration for the ICC, because, although there is next to no chance that the country will join any time soon, the ICC is very dependent on the co-operation of the US for rounding up war criminals. The US is starting to prove its worth in the Kenyan case (blog entry on this shortly), and is becoming more and more active in hunting down Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. Accepting Palestine into the ranks of the ICC, when the US refuses to recognise its statehood, is asking for trouble.

This may have been the thinking in April, when the then prosecutor of the court Luis Moreno-Ocampo rejected the validity of an investigation into crimes on the Palestinian territory, on the grounds that Palestine is still not a recognised state.

This may be about to change. This Palestinian delegation to the UN has drafted a resolution that requests recognition as a “non-member state” of the UN. This resolution, which may be voted on as early as this Autumn, needs a two-thirds majority in the general assemply to pass – a pretty low hurdle, given the number of countries that recognise and/or support Palestine. Unlike a request for membership, the five permanent members of the Security Council do not have the right to veto a request for non-membership statehood.

Should Palestine receive statehood approval from the UN, the ICC’s stance not to accept the region as a member or to investigate crimes on its soil would become untennable. You couldn’t have the world’s number one judicial body failing to recognise Palestine in defiance of the world’s number one peacekeeping body.

But it isn’t a done deal yet. Hostility to Palestinian statehood is rife in Washington, and policymakers know all too well what is at stake. In October last year, UNESCO, the UN’s education, cultural and scientific body, made the error of recognising Palestinian statehood. After a year of intensive lobbying, it has still not got its funding from the US back. Other bodies have taken heed.

At UN level, of course, the US’ leverage is somewhat curtailed. It doesn’t have a choice of what it pays into UN coffers – this is determined by the treaty it has signed up to. However, what it can do is place pressure on the Palestinian Authority directly to withdraw its resolution before the Autumnal vote.

What Washington may be offering the Palestinian Authority for dropping this resolution is shrouded in mystery. What price is Israel’s most vociferous guardian prepared to put on the threat that, should Palestine gain statehood, it suddenly has a new weapon in its aresnal against its neighbour? And how seriously should the US take the ICC?

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One Response to “Palestine inches closer to joining ICC”

  1. Hague has reservations about The Hague « Blake Evans-Pritchard’s Weblog Says:

    […] such as the ICC. It seems that everyone is talking about this at the moment. I blogged about it nearly two months ago. As I previously noted, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the previous prosecutor of the ICC, declined to open an […]

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