Two interviews given by senior Palestinian figures shed more light on the special relationship between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatou Bensouda, the International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor, on the active preparations the Palestinians are making with the chief prosecutor to advance the investigation, on their enthusiasm for the historic dimensions of the decision and on how they relate to the role of the Americans in the campaign against Israel, including the possibility of bringing American entities which support Israel to trial.
On March 6, 2021, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki was interviewed at length by the PA’s establishment TV channel. Most of the interview dealt with Fatou Bensouda’s decision to initiate an investigation into the alleged “war crimes” committed in the Palestinian territories. In addition to expressing extreme satisfaction with the decision, al-Maliki boasted about the special relations the PA has enjoyed with the chief prosecutor’s office since 2014, as a result of which the Palestinians were informed of the decision to investigate before the announcement was officially made. He also related to the PA’s future plans in light of the decision. He recommended the investigation begin immediately, claiming the time remaining to Bensouda in her role (about two months) was sufficient, and the rest could be left to her successor. He said the Palestinians had contacted Karim Khan, who was chosen to succeed Bensouda and is expected to replace her in June 2021, sending him a WhatsApp message to congratulate him on his appointment.
Before the chief prosecutor issued her formal announcement, on March 1, 2021, PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said the Palestinian complaint filed with the ICC had broken Israel’s self-declared monopoly of the status of the victim, and proved that the Palestinian people also suffered and were tortured [sic], killed and expelled. He said that considerable pressure had been exerted on the Palestinians before they complained to the ICC, including by the American State Department. He said that if the Court convicts Israel the Palestinians will be able to sue companies and entities in the United States as having assisted Israel. He mentioned that Mahmoud Abbas had been told in the past by an aide to the American secretary of state that joining the ICC was like becoming a nuclear power (MEMRI website, March 9, 2021).
Right: Riyad al-Maliki interviewed by Palestinian TV (Facebook page of the Palestinian foreign ministry, March 7, 2021). Left: Muhammad Shtayyeh interviewed by Palestinian TV
(MEMRI website, March 9, 2021).
Main issues discussed in the interview
Riyad al-Maliki’s interview with Palestinian TV lasted for close to an hour and was almost entirely devoted to the Palestinian complaint to the ICC. The main issues he discussed were the following (Palestinian TV, March 6, 2021):
The Palestinians’ special relationship with the ICC: Al-Maliki said chief prosecutor’s office had informed him of Bensouda’s decision several hours before the formal announcement, but he was asked to use discretion. He said the only others who knew were Mahmoud Abbas and Rawan Sulieman, the PA representative in Holland. He said that after the announcement they contacted the chief prosecutor’s office to coordinate a visit of a Palestinian delegation to The Hague and to plan the next steps. He stressed that they had been in constant direct and indirect contact with the chief prosecutor’s office since 2014 (the year the PA joined the Rome Statute).
A Palestinian delegation visit to The Hague: Preparations are being made in the PA for a delegation to visit the ICC to meet with the chief prosecutor and her aides. He said they would discuss the next steps, dates for practical measures in the field, and the roles of the Palestinians would be. He noted that they were currently waiting for the date which depended, he claimed, on the chief prosecutor’s schedule and the coronavirus situation in Holland.
Contacts with the income chief prosecutor: Asked if the Palestinians were in contact with Karim Khan, who will replace Fatou Bensouda, apparently in June 2021, al-Maliki seemed uncomfortable with the question and hesitated, stumbling over his words before he answered. He said that when Khan’s appointment was announced they sent him a WhatsApp message congratulating him, and that Khan had thanked them. However, because of the sensitivity of the matter, they will not contact him before he assumes office.
Practical preparations in the field: Al-Maliki said they were currently assessing the situation to prepare for an integrated work program and to formulate a comprehensive strategy for working with the ICC. They are examining which organizations and individuals to activate in the local, Arab and international arenas, and the issues of manpower and funding. He also noted the PA delegation to The Hague might be enlarged. Note: In ITIC assessment, the PA regards the preparations for the investigation as its main form of activity against Israeli.
Beginning the actual investigation: The Palestinians want the investigation to begin as soon as possible so the future chief prosecutor, who will assume his responsibilities in about two months, will know the process had been started. He said they were prepared to assist every interested Palestinian lodge a complaint against Israel, as previously instructed by Mahmoud Abbas. Al-Maliki encouraged Palestinians to immediately appeal to the offices of the chief prosecutor in the PA to prepare the materials and files needed for the investigation.
Accusations against Israel: Al-Maliki said the ICC’s investigation would deal with three main issues: the settlements, the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the “war crimes” carried out in the Gaza Strip in 2014. According to al-Maliki, the ICC will not be able to discuss the issues simultaneously, and therefore the chief prosecutor and the Court will decide which one is the most pressing.
Activity against measures taken by Israel in the United States: The Palestinians are aware of the campaign Israel is waging to damage the ICC’s reputation. Al-Maliki claimed they were acting to foil Israel’s attempts to politicize the Court and he said he was in favor of launching a Palestinian media campaign to counter Israel’s campaign against the ICC and turn international public opinion away from support for Israel. Should Israel and the United States want to appeal to the UN Security Council to delay the investigation for 12 months, the Palestinians will be able sabotage their efforts by using friendly Security Council member states with veto power, such as Russia and China.
Israel’s response: The Palestinians expect Israel’s response to be confused and worried, which will reflect the responses of states that support Israel, such as the United States, Canada, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and Australia, which have already been asked by Israel to oppose the investigation.
The United States’ response: According to al-Maliki, they were not surprised by the American response to the chief prosecutor’s decision. As to the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on the ICC judges and their families, he said they expected better treatment from the Biden administration. Al-Maliki claimed the protection the United States gave Israel was actually self defense against possible legal action against the war crimes American forces [allegedly] committed in Afghanistan. He took the opportunity to say they were waiting for practical measures to be taken to renew the PA’s ties with the United States.