The US, a staunch ally of Israel, has condemned the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s decision to launch a full investigation into war crimes in the Palestinian territories, claiming that the "unjustified inquiry" will "unfairly" target Tel Aviv.
In a statement on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US did not believe Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state.
"We do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state, and they therefore are not qualified to obtain full membership, or participate as a state in international organizations, entities, or conferences, including the ICC," he said.
Earlier in the day, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said a 2015 preliminary examination into war crimes had provided enough information to meet all criteria for opening a probe.
Bensouda also expressed her satisfaction with "a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine."
“I am satisfied that ... war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem [al-Quds], and the Gaza Strip,” she said.
The top US diplomat, however, took to Twitter, claiming that the ICC inquiry "unfairly targets Israel," which is not a member of The Hague-based court.
Today, the #ICC prosecutor raised serious questions about the ICC’s jurisdiction to investigate #Israel. Israel is not a state party to the ICC. We firmly oppose this unjustified inquiry that unfairly targets Israel. The path to lasting peace is through direct negotiations.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 21, 2019
Israel and the US have both refused to sign up to the ICC, which was set up in 2002 to be the only global tribunal trying the world's worst crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted with fury to the ICC announcement, saying it was "a dark day for truth and justice."
He also argued that the court had "no jurisdiction in this case" and that it had become "a political tool to delegitimize" the Tel Aviv regime.
By contrast, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki hailed the ICC decision as "a victory for justice and the Palestinian rights."
"Yes, this is a dark day in the history of Israel because the ICC decided, after having all the available evidence and proofs, that there was enough material to open a criminal investigation against Israel for committing what is considered war crimes and crimes against humanity," he said in a statement.
Similarly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stressed that the announcement marked "a great day" for the Palestinians, saying, "We have achieved what we want."
"This is a historic day, and now it is possible for any Palestinian harmed as a result of the occupation to file a lawsuit," he noted.
Moreover, Hanan Ashrawi, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), welcomed the ICC move as "a positive step forward," which has been "long overdue."
"Israel must pay for its crimes and the Palestinian people will not accept exclusion from the universality of human rights. We are empowered and determined to achieve justice, redress, and accountability through international mechanisms, including the ICC," she said. "Israel’s panicked attempts to twist facts and its feverish efforts to perpetuate impunity and remain unaccountable will fail."
PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat described the ICC decision as an "encouraging step" that would help prevent criminals from evading justice.
"This is a message of hope for our people," he emphasized.
Meanwhile, Israeli rights group B'Tselem, called the ICC chief prosecutor’s finding of a basis to proceed with a criminal investigation “the only possible outcome arising from the facts.”
"Israel's legal acrobatics in an attempt to whitewash its crimes must not be allowed to stop international legal efforts to, at long last, hold it to account," said B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad.