NGOs lobby international court over Gaza probe

THE HAGUE, Netherlands—Rights groups lobbied the International Criminal Court on Wednesday for and against a Palestinian bid to be recognized as a state by the tribunal.

The court’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, is mulling whether he can accept a move by the Palestinian Authority to recognize the court’s jurisdiction as a first step toward launching an investigation into alleged war crimes during the Gaza conflict that began in December 2008.

At issue is the vexed question of Palestinian statehood as the court can only be recognized by states.

At a round-table meeting with nongovernment groups, four pro-Palestinian and four pro-Israeli groups made brief presentations to Moreno Ocampo.

No date has been set for the court to rule on the Palestinian recognition of its jurisdiction.

The Palestinian application to the Hague court reflects official pessimism over the prospects of peace talks with Israel, which restarted last month after a two-year gap. Palestinians have in effect suspended the talks over a demand that Israel renew a slowdown in settlement construction in the West Bank.

Palestinian officials have been indicating that if the talks fail, they might approach the U.N. Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Some see this as a pressure tactic meant to force the Obama administration to press Israel for concessions.

Palestinians have had success at a different Hague-based court in the past. In 2004, the International Court of Justice—the U.N.’s highest judicial organ—ruled that a barrier Israel was building along the West Bank, dipping into Palestinian territory in many places, was illegal and must be torn down.

Israel countered that it was a security measure meant to keep suicide bombers and other attackers out and continued its construction.

Similarly, Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N., told Moreno Ocampo on Wednesday that the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, because it deals only with disputes between states.

In a statement, Gold said the Palestinian move for recognition violates interim peace accords “which state that the sides will not initiate one-sided steps that will change the status quo until the final status agreements.”

Palestinian Justice Minister Ali Khashan said last year that Palestinians have been seeking “justice from the international community” since the day Israel was created in 1948.

Israel launched a three-week offensive in December 2008 with the aim of ending years of Hamas rocket fire at southern Israel. The fighting left nearly 1,300 Palestinians dead, more than half of them civilians, according to Gaza officials. Thirteen Israelis were killed, including three civilians.

If the court decides it can investigate crimes in Gaza, Hamas also will likely be targeted by prosecutors for the deadly barrage of rockets it has unleashed on Israel.

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