UK must not hinder Palestine's right to International Criminal Court

Alyn's op-ed on the UK Government’s stated aims regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, and its actions, specifically in regard to its position on Palestinian accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC)

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Published in the Huffington Post on 17th October.

 

The recent House of Commons’ vote overwhelmingly in favour of Palestine's right to statehood was a welcome step in the direction of justice and respect for international law.

However, there seem to be deep contradictions between the UK Government’s stated aims regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, and its actions, specifically in regard to its position on Palestinian accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

As a Member of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, I have been astonished by reports that the UK government has pressured the Palestinian leadership not to seek ICC jurisdiction.

The UK recognises that accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws is a vital step towards achieving peace and stability worldwide and has been at the forefront of efforts to bring other conflicts such as Sudan and Syria under ICC jurisdiction. It also recently condemned Russia and China for blocking Syria's referral to the ICC. 

Taking the opposite position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes no sense. Accountability is vital to prevent another Gaza war, as well as to bring about resolution of the wider conflict. Since the Oslo Accords, efforts to resolve this conflict have consistently floundered, due in no small part to the ongoing breaches of international law, which have not been pursued adequately.

Serious and repeated violations of international law, such as Israel’s settlement expansion, Hamas rocket attacks, and Israeli bombardment of Gaza have undermined trust between the parties, and fuelled a bitter cycle of hostilities.

Encouraging the Palestinians to accede to the ICC, which they have been eligible to do since attaining Observer State status at the UN in 2012, would introduce an accountability mechanism that would deter future violence. It would also provide an incentive for each side to stay at the negotiating table.

Any UK attempt to dissuade the Palestinians from seeking the Court’s jurisdiction thus undermines its stated commitment to the peace process, and to a negotiated two-state solution, as well as its support for the ICC. 

It is also a contradiction of the UK’s commitment as an ICC member to “advance universal support for the Rome Statute of the ICC by promoting the widest possible participation in it” and the statement in its 2013 ICC Strategy Paper, that “support for international criminal justice and accountability is a fundamental element of our foreign policy”.

There is another issue on Israel and Palestine on which UK policy seems at best contradictory, and at worst self-defeating. On July 23, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution establishing a Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged violations by all parties during the latest Gaza war.

At the time, Foreign Secretary Hammond stated that the resolution would “complicate the process by introducing unnecessary new mechanisms”. In contrast, the UK's Middle East Minister Tobias Ellwood said: “the UK supports this inquiry, which must be balanced and independent” and called on “both sides to co-operate with the Commission of Inquiry”.

I have recently written to Mr. Hammond asking him whether he meant the Commission of Inquiry was an “unnecessary mechanism” – and if so, how that is consistent with the Government’s commitments to uphold international law elsewhere. I asked him to clarify the UK’s position on this and on Palestinian accession to the ICC, which I strongly believe the UK should support.

I await a response.