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International Criminal Court Prosecutor Resists Palestinian End-Run (Forbes.com) April 4, 2012

Posted by daviddavenport in Policy Articles & Papers.

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.

This is precisely what Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo concluded at first, that he had no jurisdiction. But a few weeks later, he reversed field and said he wanted to think further about whether Palestine might have sufficient earmarks of a State to submit a case to the Court. And so the hunt for those earmarks began. Some argued, for example, that because Palestine walks like a state and talks like a state, it therefore must be a state. Only in the vagaries of international law might one describe such a legal argument as “teleological” and therefore be taken seriously. Others said that because some states interact with Palestine as a state, it must be a state.

But when you look at the list of nation-states that belong to the United Nations, Palestine is not there. Instead it is listed as an “observer” at the U.N. And when you review those who attended the meetings creating the International Criminal Court itself, again Palestine is not listed as a state, but rather as one of the “other organizations” in attendance. Indeed, Palestinian officials themselves have long admitted that statehood is their objective, not something they have already attained.

Yet the ICC Office of the Prosecutor spent three years pursuing a lengthy and, for a prosecutor, almost bizarre process of consideration. First, prosecutors entertained “submissions”, not only from parties but from anyone, really, who had something to say. Memoranda were filed by human rights organizations, NGO’s, academics and countless others, with many of these posted on the Prosecutor’s website. Then the Prosecutor invited eight international lawyers who had made submissions, to come to the Hague for a chat about the matter. If it’s difficult to imagine your local prosecutor holding afternoon tea sessions to discuss whether to prosecute war criminals, again welcome to what passes as the world of “international law.”

It is both interesting and important to understand why the Prosecutor took so long with this question. For one thing, the impulse of international organizations is inevitably to expand their jurisdiction. They want more power and influence, not less. Since the purpose of the ICC was to halt impunity for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, the human rights organizations that were behind formation of the Court worry less about legal niceties such as jurisdictional rules and want broader jurisdiction. The Prosecutor himself may share those views but, at the very least, he feels pressure from those who founded this relatively new court in 2002, a court that only recently completed its first trial.

The Prosecutor also faces political pressures that he is only bringing cases against Africans and not those from other, more powerful countries. Indeed, virtually all of his early investigations have been against Africans and perhaps he needed to keep this case alive, if only to demonstrate some balance. Further, he may have been under pressure to keep his hand in the Middle Eastern peace process, holding the threat of prosecution over Israel’s head. And, the ICC could have been one more ticket for Palestine to punch in its effort to receive recognition from international organizations and move along toward its goal of statehood.

But in the end, all those political pressures could not find a proper legal argument to carry the day, and the Prosecutor had to admit that the question of statehood, and therefore the ability to bring cases to the ICC, was really a decision for the United Nations, and not for the Court. Imagine, though, all the time, effort, frustration, and political leverage that were invested in a decision that could and should have been reached three years ago.

To view the article please click on the link:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2012/04/04/international-criminal-court-prosecutor-resists-palestinian-end-run/

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