June 24, 2015 / 9:54 AM / 2 years ago

Palestinian ICC submissions over Gaza unlikely to herald progress

Palestinian boys play next to houses that witnesses said were destroyed during the 50-day war last summer, in the east of Gaza City May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The Palestinian foreign minister will hand evidence of alleged Israeli crimes to the International Criminal Court on Thursday, but it is unlikely that the submissions will speed the court’s progress in its most politically charged case.

Riad al-Malki will give two files to the court’s prosecutor, outlining alleged crimes in the occupied West Bank and in the 2014 Gaza war, the Palestinian mission in The Hague said.

But while his visit to the court will keep the public gaze on the case, the submissions will have no legal force and progress in the court’s examination of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unlikely for many months.

The Palestinian Authority joined the Hague-based court in April and prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has launched a preliminary inquiry into alleged crimes committed by all parties in last year’s Gaza war.

The submissions are intended to contribute to the preliminary investigation, which covers the period starting June 14, 2014.

A ceasefire in August ended the 50 days of fighting between Gaza militants and Israel, in which health officials said more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

U.N. investigators said on Monday that Israel and Palestinian militant groups committed grave abuses of international humanitarian law during the 2014 Gaza conflict that may amount to war crimes.

Israel disputed the findings, saying its forces acted “according to the highest international standards”.

It has criticized the ICC decision to open an examination, arguing that the Palestinian Authority is not a state and cannot therefore be a member. It has also said the examination will make it harder to conclude a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Without enforcement powers, the court depends on voluntary cooperation of states, including non-members such as Israel, to collect information.

In deciding whether to cooperate, Israel is likely to be guided by indications from prosecutors over the line their investigation will take. The first indication of this is expected in November when prosecutors publish their regular reports into the progress of preliminary examinations.

During preliminary inquiries, prosecutors use publicly available information to establish whether crimes were committed of gravity sufficient to warrant a full investigation.

They typically include fact finding missions to countries involved, even if they are non-members.

Any trip to the Palestinian Territories would require Israel’s cooperation, since the West Bank and Gaza can only be accessed via Israeli airports. That gives Israel substantial leverage over the court’s investigation.

Nonetheless, a refusal to meet with ICC officials would place the country in awkward company, since even implacable opponents of the court have received ICC prosecutors, including Russia in relation to inquiries the ICC is conducting in Ukraine and Georgia into conflicts where Russian involvement is alleged.

Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Alison Williams

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