Israel rejects ICC probe, saying it lacks jurisdiction

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Thursday said it would formally reject the International Criminal Court’s decision to launch a probe into potential war crimes against the Palestinians, denying that it has committed such crimes and saying the court lacks the jurisdiction to investigate.

A panel of judges at the ICC ruled in February that the court does have jurisdiction, allowing the investigation to proceed. Israel’s response to a formal notification sent out last month is not expected to reopen that debate, though judges may reconsider the issue of jurisdiction later in the process.

The court is expected to look at possible war crimes committed by Israelis forces and Palestinian militants during and after the 2014 Gaza war, as well as Israel’s establishment of settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem that now house over 700,000 settlers. International law prohibits the transfer of civilians into occupied territory.

The Palestinians have hailed the probe as a rare opportunity to hold Israel to account for what they say are serious, longstanding violations of international law. The Palestinians were granted nonmember observer status in the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, allowing them to join international organizations like the ICC.

Israel says the court is biased against it and has no right to investigate, citing its own judicial processes and the fact that the Palestinians have neither a state nor defined borders.

“In addition to totally rejecting the claim that Israel commits war crimes, Israel reiterates its unequivocal position that the Hague Tribunal has no authority to open an investigation against it,” the government said in a statement, detailing a letter it plans to send to the ICC.

“Israel is committed to the rule of law and will continue to investigate any charges against it regardless of the source, and it expects the tribunal to refrain from violating its authority and sovereignty,” the statement said.

The letter is in response to an official notice sent to all parties by the ICC last month. Israel could have argued that it was capable of investigating and prosecuting violations on its own, potentially deferring or even cancelling the ICC’s investigation.

Experts have said Israel might have succeeded in deferring investigations into possible war crimes by citing its own investigations into alleged misconduct by its soldiers. But the establishment and continuing expansion of settlements has been an official state policy for decades and is allowed under Israeli law.

Israel is not a member of the ICC, but Israeli officials could be subject to arrest in other countries if the court issues warrants against them.

Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but imposed a blockade after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power there two years later. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and numerous smaller skirmishes since then.

Most of the international community views the West Bank and east Jerusalem as occupied territory whose final status should be decided in peace talks.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its unified capital and views the West Bank as the historical and biblical heartland of the Jewish people. There have been no substantive peace talks in more than a decade.

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Associated Press reporter Isaac Scharf contributed to this report.