ICC rules it can investigate alleged war crimes in Palestine despite objections from Israel

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has said it has the jurisdiction to investigate Israel and the leaders of the Palestinian faction Hamas for alleged war crimes.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the ruling and said the country would protect its citizens and soldiers in every way from legal persecution.

Fatou Bensouda, the ICC chief prosecutor, said she intends to open a formal inquiry into alleged war crimes in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Six years ago Bensouda launched a preliminary investigation into Israel's actions in the Palestinian Territories, with a particular focus on the 50-day Gaza war in 2014 in which more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed and 10,000 wounded. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers died.

This new ruling, delivered late on Friday night, allows the court to begin the criminal investigation should it want to.

The Palestinian Authority, an internationally recognised representative for Palestinians, still wants to pursue the case. It would see the prosecution of Israeli officials or military figures as a significant diplomatic victory. The authority is also a political rival to Hamas.

The Israeli government has argued that as Palestine is not a fully fledged state, it should not be allowed to petition the court.

Netanyahu has previously called for sanctions against the ICC and those associated with it. Donald Trump’s administration used a similar tactic to block a separate abandoned court investigation into the conduct of US troops in Afghanistan.

While Joe Biden’s administration says it disagrees with ICC action against Israel, it says it is reviewing those sanctions, a move that worries Israel.

However, US state department spokesman Ned Price said Washington had “serious concerns” over Friday’s ICC ruling.

Leading Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem said in a statement: "The decision follows the facts of the matter and brings hope towards an end for impunity."

The statement continued: "Further, we hope that the ICC decision will have a restraining effect on Israeli actions, even before the investigation advances - for example in preventing further attempts to forcibly transfer Palestinian communities, such as the ones we witnessed this week in the South Hebron Hills and in the Jordan Valley.