THE HAGUE: The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court launched a preliminary probe Friday that could clear the way for a full-scale investigation into possible war crimes in Palestinian territories, plunging the court into the most politically charged conflict it has ever investigated.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement she will conduct the preliminary examination with “full independence and impartiality.”
The announcement comes after the Palestinian Authority acceded to The Hague-based court’s founding treaty and recognized its jurisdiction dating back to the eve of last summer’s Gaza war.
That move opened the door to an ICC investigation that could target possible crimes by both Israel, which is not a member of the court, and Palestinians.
A preliminary examination is not an investigation, but weighs information about possible crimes and jurisdiction issues to establish whether a full investigation is merited.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed documents to join the ICC a day after the UN Security Council rejected a resolution Dec. 30 that would have set a three-year deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state on lands occupied by Israel.
Joining the ICC is part of a broader Palestinian strategy to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the occupied territories and agreeing to Palestinian statehood.
Abbas had been under heavy domestic pressure to take stronger action against Israel after the 50-day war between the Jewish state and militants in Gaza over the summer, tensions over holy sites in Jerusalem and the failure of the last round of US-led peace talks.
Bensouda cast the decision to open a preliminary probe as procedural following the Palestinians’ recognition of the court. It is unclear how long the preliminary examination might take.
Bensouda said “there are no timelines” set in the court’s founding treaty.