The Israeli response reflected Israel’s strong opposition to the court’s potential entanglement in the protracted Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the possibility that Israeli leaders could be indicted — even if by a court they do not recognize.
The Palestinians used their upgraded United Nations status as a nonmember observer state to join the court three years ago, which subjected the Palestinian territories to court jurisdiction. They authorized the court to investigate the 2014 conflict in Gaza.
Under the court’s rules, any member country can request an investigation.
The legal maneuver on Tuesday came at a moment of especially high tensions between Israelis and Palestinians after the United States formally relocated its embassy to Jerusalem and the fatal shooting of scores of Palestinians in Gaza whom Israel accused of trying to storm a border fence.
Last week another international body, the United Nations Human Rights Council, considered a resolution to “urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry” to investigate “all alleged violations and abuses” of civilians since the latest Gaza protests began on March 30.
The Palestinian case against Israel is by far the most high profile and politically sensitive issue to reach the court since it opened in 2002. According to its website, the court is currently investigating 11 “situations,” the bulk of them in sub-Saharan Africa, involving allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Should the court’s chief prosecutor, currently Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, seek to take up a criminal investigation of Israel, the case faces a series of time-consuming hurdles.
Initially, the prosecutor may use open sources to build a case, and it is then up to the court’s pretrial judges to decide whether the evidence is sufficient to approve a criminal investigation.