The TV channel revealed yesterday the existence of a letter from the office of top ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (published in full by The Electronic Intifada below) in which she recounts a private 5 August meeting with Riad Malki, the PA foreign minister.
It is difficult to read her account of the meeting as anything other than Malki obstructing the process of investigating Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
Israel’s blood-thirsty onslaught against the Gaza Strip was then still raging, and, in public pronouncements before the assembled press in The Hague, Malki made a show of wanting to sign the supposed “State of Palestine” (actually the Palestinian Authority) up to the ICC by acceding to the Rome statute.
“Israel has left us with no other option,” he told reporters.
But that very same day, he was apparently singing a very different song in his meeting behind closed doors with Bensouda (an experienced Gambian lawyer, elected to head the ICC prosecutor’s office in 2011).
No “positive confirmation”
On 30 July, French lawyers acting on behalf of the PA’s justice minister and Gaza’s prosecutor general sent a request to the ICC to launch an investigation into then-ongoing Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
In the letter, obtained by Al Jazeera, Bensouda recounts that during her 5 August meeting with Malki, she “sought to confirm whether or not” that request had been officially “transmitted on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.”
This was a crucial procedural question since, under the rules of the ICC, only the head of the State of Palestine, or its foreign minister, can authorize such a prosecution.
In the letter, a reply to the same French law firm, Bensouda is clear: “I did not receive a positive confirmation [from Malki]. Accordingly, there is no legal basis for my Office to consider” taking forward the prosecution.
Bensouda later wrote in The Guardian that “the decision is theirs [Palestinian Authority leaders’] alone and as ICC prosecutor, I cannot make it for them.” Some legal experts have disputed this interpretation, including international law expert and long-time Israel critic John Dugard.
In scuppering this request to investigate Israel, the PA “missed a golden opportunity” to hold Israel to account, Saad Djebbar, an influential Palestinian lawyer, said on Al Jazeera English yesterday. Djebbar is the lawyer for the widow of Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, who there are very compelling reasons to believe was assassinated by Israel.
Hamas today reacted critically to the PA’s obstruction at the ICC.
Ismail Haniyeh, de facto head of the Hamas-led government in Gaza, urged PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to hurry up and sign onto the ICC. Ma’an News Agency reported that he said: “signing the Rome statute is the right for every victim and stalling is neglecting their rights and an offense to the image of Palestinians.”
Last month, Middle East Eye editor David Hearst (formerly of The Guardian) revealed that the Hamas leadership had urged Abbas to join the ICC. The Islamic resistance movement agreed to pushing forward with joining the ICC and having Israel investigated for war crimes, even if that meant the court would also investigate Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes against Israelis.
In a rare move for mainstream Palestine solidarity groups in the UK (who often have friendly relations with PA representatives), Friends of Al Aqsa today also condemned the PA. “Abbas’s actions are inexcusable,” said the group’s chair Ismail Patel in a press release. “It is appalling that … the Palestinian Authority’s obligation to join the ICC and bring Israel to account is being squandered by a select few of its leaders who put their own political interests ahead of the needs of their people,” he said.
History of collusion
Since its inception in the early 1990s, the Palestinian Authority has been little more than a subcontractor for the Israeli occupation.
The most crucial aspect of this role is the so-called “security coordination” between Israel’s occupying military and intelligence forces and the Palestinian Authority’s sprawling and well-armed police and mukhabarat (undercover) forces.
In this way, the PA’s forces maintain an oppressive regime in the West Bank whose main purpose is to violently prevent Palestinian resistance to Israel occupation – including both popular protests and armed resistance. In common with other dictatorships in the Arab world, the PA also persecutes and jails critical journalists.
On the diplomatic front, the PA has a long history of obstructing legal moves to hold Israeli accountable on the world stage.
As revealed in 2011 after the release of the Palestine Papers, back in 2009 the PA helped obstruct efforts to hold Israel to account in the UN Human Rights Council using the Goldstone Report – an investigation (led by a South African judge) into Israel’s brutal 2008-2009 war of elimination against the Gaza Strip.
As this writer revealed back in 2010, UN and PA documents obtained by The Electronic Intifada proved that top PA officials in Geneva attempted to neutralize a UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning Israel’s deadly attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
Israel’s 31 May 2010 attack killed eight Turkish citizens and a US citizen with Turkish residency, and injured dozens of others aboard the Mavi Marmara in international waters. A tenth Turkish activist, who was shot in the head by Israeli forces aboard the ship, died this past May after a four-year coma.
- Riad Malki
- Palestinian Authority
- Al Jazeera
- Clayton Swisher
- Fatou Bensouda
- Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
- International Criminal Court
- John Dugard
- Saad Djebbar
- Ismail Haniyeh
- Mahmoud Abbas
- Middle East Eye
- David Hearst
- Friends of Al Aqsa
- Ismail Patel
- security coordination
- Palestinian authority police
- Palestine Papers