of the International Criminal Court (ICC) extended the court's
jurisdiction over war crimes committed in East Jerusalem and the West
Bank with application from Palestine, despite strong oppositions from
both Israel and the United States. The Palestine Authority (PA) formally
asked the ICC to initiate an investigation against crimes committed on
the occupied territories in May 2018.
The ICC's decision is very important to Palestinians. First of all, the ICC's decision affirms PA's territorial claims. The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC confirms that the territory over which the ICC can exercise its jurisdiction includes the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, all of which are claimed by the PA as legal territories.
The legal status of these territories, especially the West Bank and East Jerusalem, are seriously challenged by both the U.S. and Israel. The administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018, besides supporting Israel's territorial claims over parts of the West Bank. The PA has been struggling against U.S. pressure and Israel's occupations, and the decision of expanding ICC's jurisdiction over these territories has strengthened Palestinians' territorial claims.
Moreover, the ICC's decision comes amidst transforming geopolitics in the Middle East. In 2020, under mediation from Trump administration, several major Arab states, including the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, recognized and established formal ties with Israel. The normalization of ties suggests the marginalization of the Palestine issue.
Palestinian children from Bakr family play outside their house in Gaza City, February 7, 2021. /Getty
The Arab world had insisted the eternal peace between Israel and Palestine as the precondition for their ties with Israel for decades, while the public normalization in 2020 suggested the severely weakened importance of Palestine issue among Arab states. Against this backdrop, the ICC's decision highlights the importance of the Palestine issue in the Middle East.
Furthermore, the ICC's decision could reinforce the legitimacy and popularity of the ruling party in Palestine and help facilitate the settlement of divisions between different Palestinian blocs. After internal conflicts in 2007 between two major Palestinian blocs, Fatah and Hamas, Palestine has been left separated by Fatah-led West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Palestine and PA's president, Mahmoud Abbas, announced the parliamentary and presidential elections would be held in the mid of 2021, the first elections in 15 years, with the aim of healing the long-standing internal divisions. The polls suggest a tight contest between Hamas and Fatah. In a recent survey, Fatah might win 38 percent of the votes while Hamas could win 34 percent.
The ICC's decision, which comes at the request of the PA's government led by Fatah, would increase Fatah's popularity in the upcoming elections in Palestine.
Although the ICC's decision is important, we cannot have very high expectations as it cannot ensure eternal peace between Israelis and Palestinians. For over half a century since 1967, when Israeli forces occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, hundreds of thousands of Jews moved there with hundreds of Jewish settlements constructed in these areas. The presence of Israel in East Jerusalem and the West Bank has become an established fact, as well as a major obstacle hindering bilateral trust between Israelis and Palestinians.
Meanwhile, given that Israel is not a member of the ICC, the extension of jurisdiction and future investigations over East Jerusalem and the West Bank by the ICC may not be easy. The ICC's role in Israel-Palestine peace process, therefore, is still limited and only symbolic.
However, the importance of ICC's decision should not be ignored. It suggests that the world has not forgotten the Palestinians. After years of stalemate between Israel and Palestine and years of resistance against Trump administration's sanctions and pressure, the ICC's decision has given new hope to Palestinians.
Editor's Note: Wang Jin is a research fellow of Charhar Institute in China and an associate professor from Northwest University in China. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.