The United States said on Wednesday it “strongly” opposed Palestine’s request to join the International Criminal Court, adding it would hinder peace talks with Israel, Agence France-Presse reported.
“We are deeply troubled by today’s Palestinian action regarding the ICC,” said Jeffrey Rathke, a State Department spokesman.
“Today’s action is entirely counterproductive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas filed requests Wednesday for his government to join 20 international conventions, including the Rome Statute, which governs the ICC, each a step on the road to statehood.
Washington supports the Palestinians’ quest for a state, but sides with its ally Israel insisting that they not take unilateral steps in this direction before reaching a peace deal with their neighbor.
Rathke said the Palestinians’ ICC request “badly damages the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace.
“The United States continues to strongly oppose actions — by both parties — that undermine trust and create doubts about their commitment to a negotiated peace.
“Our position has not changed. Such actions only push the parties further apart.”
The move paves the way for the court to take jurisdiction over crimes committed in the Palestinian territories and investigate the conduct of Israeli and Palestinian leaders over more than a decade of bloody conflict.
It came a day after the U.N. Security Council rejected a draft resolution that sought a deadline for Israel to end its occupation of territories sought by the Palestinians.
Abbas had warned that if the resolution failed, he would resume a Palestinian campaign to join international organizations to heighten pressure on Israel.
“We want to complain. There’s aggression against us, against our land. The Security Council disappointed us,” Abbas said as he gathered a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.
Israel says all disputes should be resolved through peace talks, and such actions are aimed at bypassing negotiations.
Responding to Abbas’s decision, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the Palestinians have “more to fear” than his country from their newly signed request to join the International Criminal Court.
“The Palestinian Authority has more to fear, having formed a government with Hamas, a known terrorist organization and which like the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria commits war crimes,” Netanyahu said in a statement published by his office.
The Palestinian campaign scored a major victory in 2012 when Palestine was admitted to the U.N. General Assembly as a nonmember observer state. This upgraded status gave the Palestinians the authority to join dozens of international treaties and agencies.
Still, turning to the International Criminal Court marks a major policy shift by transforming Abbas’ relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile. Abbas has been threatening to join the court since 2012, but held off under American and Israeli pressure. The Palestinians can use the court to challenge the legality of Israeli settlement construction on occupied lands and to pursue war crimes charges connected to military activity.
Palestinian leaders hope ICC membership will pave the way for war crimes prosecutions against Israeli officials. Israel has warned that joining the court could also expose Palestinians to prosecution.
The Hague-based court prosecutes individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.