A day after the failed bid at the UN to push a Middle East peace settlement, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas moved yesterday to join the International Criminal Court, setting the stage for potential war-crimes complaints against Israel, The Washington Post reported.
Abbas' signing of the Rome Statute governing the Hague-based court, prompted swift criticism from Israel and the US. The state department said the action was ''entirely counter-productive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state.''
Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the move was ''an escalatory step that will not achieve any of the outcomes most Palestinians have long hoped to see for their people.''
According to commentators, the step reflected deep frustration among Palestinian leaders at what according to them was the Israeli government's hard-line policies under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including the expansion of West Bank settlements. It also follows the sharpening tensions amid clashes in recent months and the summer war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The move would further diminish the hopes of reviving peace talks that collapsed in April.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that the step was part of a strategic shift by the Palestinian leadership to pursue statehood in the international arena after decades of stalled US-brokered negotiations with Israel.
''There is aggression practiced against our land and our country, and the Security Council has let us down - where shall we go?'' Abbas said at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah while signing the Rome Statute, the founding charter of the court, as also several other international conventions.
''We want to complain to this organization,'' he said of the court. ''As long as there is no peace, and the world doesn't prioritise peace in this region, this region will live in constant conflict. The Palestinian cause is the key issue to be settled.''
''Actions like this are not the answer. Hard as it is, all sides need to find a way to work constructively and cooperatively together to lower tensions, reject violence and find a path forward,'' Rathke said in the statement.
Abbas, whose popularity plunged after the summer conflict between Israel and Hamasm is under pressure from other Palestinian leaders and public opinion to sign the statute and then use the court to pursue cases against Israel's settlement policy and its military operations.