The Palestinians’ decision to join the ICC deserves support

Ken Roth in the Los Angeles Times:

ScreenHunter_945 Jan. 15 16.26The Israel exception to Western governments' human rights principles has been starkly on display in the reaction to the Palestinian Authority's decision to join the International Criminal Court. In Washington, Ottawa, Paris and London, as well as Tel Aviv, the response has ranged from discouraging to condemnatory. The Palestinian move has been seen as “counterproductive,” “deeply troubl[ing],” “a concerning and dangerous development” that could make a “return to negotiations impossible.” Before accepting these howls of protest, we should ask why, exactly, the Palestinian move is supposed to be bad.

Given the outcry, one would think this move targets only Israel, but the ICC doesn't work that way. Rather, the court will be empowered to prosecute war crimes committed in or from Palestinian territory — that is, crimes committed by Israelis or Palestinians. The court's prosecutor is not dependent on formal complaints by ICC members but can now initiate cases on her own.

Many of the Western objections are based on the argument that having the Palestinians in the ICC will somehow undermine Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations — moribund as they have been. The U.S. State Department opined that it would “damage the atmosphere” for peace.

But the broad parameters for peace have been known for years. What has been lacking is the trust between the two sides to make the painful decisions necessary for a peace accord. Nothing undermines that trust more than impunity for the war crimes that Human Rights Watch has found continue to characterize the conflict, whether settlement expansion, Hamas rocket strikes or Israel's lax attitude toward civilian casualties in Gaza. By helping to deter these crimes, the ICC could discourage these major impediments to peace.

More here.