Today, Palestine accepts the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court—or, put another way, the ICC accepts that Palestine accepts its jurisdiction. This more awkward formulation is more accurate, since what matters is not Palestine’s quixotic quest to join The Hague Court, but the ICC’s acknowledgement that it can.
Palestinian claims to statehood are nothing new. What has changed is that Palestine is now seeking (and getting) membership in international organizations. But because Palestine still has so few qualities of a real state, this trend promises plenty of turmoil and trouble—for the ICC, for Israel, and for Palestine itself. And it is a reminder that in a world of states, statehood matters. For Palestinians, statehood is a delusion worth having and trouble worth making.
STATE OF PLAY
Palestine has acceded to the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding charter, and issued a declaration accepting the court’s jurisdiction, something only a state can do. Palestine first tried to join the ICC in 2009; it was rebuffed after a three-year delay, with the court noting that “competent organs” at the United Nations had not recognized a Palestinian state. That decision was illogical, even cowardly: nothing required the ICC to defer to UN standards, which are not synonymous with statehood. A young court, not wanting to wade into one of the world’s oldest conflicts, punted to the UN.
For a time, The Hague’s dodge kept the wolf from the docket. But a few months later, in November 2012, the UN General Assembly admitted Palestine as a non-member observer state. By The Hague’s own UN-centric logic, Palestine could now join the ICC. When Palestine applied again this January, it was quickly accepted.
Palestine hopes that the court will prosecute Israeli forces operating in the West Bank and in Gaza. Whatever its merits, a case could cause real trouble for the ICC. Israel’s chief ally, the United States, has already filed a protest, arguing that Palestine is not a state.