Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photograph:( Reuters )
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ICC as a 'political body' while the United States said it had 'serious concerns' over the decision
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described on Saturday a decision by the International Criminal Court investigation as "pure anti-semitism", hours after judges at the ICC found the court has jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories, paving the way for a possible criminal investigation, despite Israeli objections.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had asked the court for its legal opinion on whether its reach extended to areas occupied by Israel, after announcing in December 2019 that she wanted to start a full probe.
The ICC said in a statement that judges had "decided, by a majority, that the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine... extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem."
Palestine is a state party to the court, having joined in 2015, but Israel is not a member.
The court added that its decision was not a ruling on Palestinian "statehood", but that it followed from Palestine's position as a state party, under the ICC's founding Rome Statute.
"The chamber is neither adjudicating a border dispute under international law nor prejudging the question of any future borders," it said.
The decision prompted swift reactions from both Israel, which is not a member of the court and rejects its jurisdiction, and the Palestinian Authority, which welcomed the ruling.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ICC as a "political body" while the United States said it had "serious concerns" over the decision. The Palestinians called it a "victory for justice".
Netanyahu said 'ICC refuses to investigate brutal dictatorships like Iran and Syria, who commit horrific atrocities almost daily.'
"The tribunal has, once again, proved that it is a political body and not a judicial institution," Netanyahu said in a statement, adding the decision undermined the "right of democracies to defend themselves against terrorism".
We will fight this perversion of justice with all our might!.'
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office was studying the decision and would decide what to do next "guided strictly by its independent and impartial mandate" to prosecute grave war crimes and atrocities when countries are unable or unwilling to do so themselves.
Bensouda had found in December 2019 that "war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip."
She named both the Israeli Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.
Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on Friday called on the ICC to speed up legal proceedings over the 2014 conflict in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian prisoners and the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
"This decision (of the ICC) is a victory for justice and humanity, for the values of truth, fairness and freedom, and for the blood of the victims and their families," Shtayyeh said, according to the official Wafa news agency.
The US State Department said Israel should not be bound by the court as it was not a member.
"We have serious concerns about the ICC's attempts to exercise jurisdiction over Israeli personnel. We have always taken the position that the court's jurisdiction should be reserved for countries that consent to it or are referred by the UN Security Council," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
Human Rights Watch, however, said the ruling was "pivotal", adding that it was "high time that Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the gravest abuses" should face justice.
"The ICC’s decision finally offers victims of serious crimes some real hope for justice after a half-century of impunity," Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at HRW, said in a statement.
The ICC's Bensouda, who steps down in June, has urged the Biden administration to lift the sanctions against the court.