Fearing Investigation, Israel Says Hague Has No Jurisdiction in West Bank or Gaza

Israel's attorney general published a legal opinion Friday that the International Criminal court has no jurisdiction in the West Bank or in Gaza, amid fears that the ICC would open an investigation into Israeli actions there, a decision the court may make in the near future. In response, the ICC prosecution has requested that the court decide whether or not it does have jurisdiction over the territory.

In a media release, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit states that the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC has been conducting a preliminary examination in response to a request submitted by the Palestinians. But the ICC, to which Israel is not a party, "lacks jurisdiction in relation to Israel and that any Palestinian actions with respect to the Court are legally invalid."

Mendelblit's opinion, which was circulated primarily in English in order to reach a broader audience, explains that only sovereign states can delegate criminal jurisdiction to the court. This disqualifies the Palestinian Authority, even if the Palestinians have purportedly joined the ICC's Rome Statute. It also says that "Israel has valid legal claims over the same territory in relation to which the Palestinians are seeking to submit to the Court's jurisdiction."

The issues that the Palestinians are attempting to resolve through the ICC request, the opinion continues, are not to be handled in the courts, but through negotiations. Mendelblit says the Palestinians are "seeking to breach the ramework agreed to by the parties" and pressure the ICC "to determine political issues that should be resolved by negotiations, and not by criminal proceedings."

Mendelblit said he may consider addressing related issues beyond that of jurisdiction in the future.   

Mendelblit was responding to a statement made by the ICC Prosecutor's Office in early December, saying that there was significant progress toward a decision on investigating Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Prosecutor's Office specifically noted allegations that Israel has been involved in demolishing Palestinian property and evicting Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It also referenced 2014's Operation Protective Edge, the war in the Gaza Strip, as well as Israel's plan to evacuate residents of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar, and Israeli construction of settlements in the West Bank.