Out of Court

Salma Karmi-Ayyoub

The latest assault on Gaza has given fresh impetus to calls to bring Israel to account at the International Criminal Court. Since the UN General Assembly recognised the state of Palestine in 2012 – upgrading it from ‘permanent observer’ to ‘non-member observer state’ – it has been eligible for membership of the court. The current ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has said it is now up to Palestinians whether or not to join. Were they to decide to do so – as human rights organisations have been calling for them to – the ICC would have the jurisdiction to prosecute Israeli war crimes committed in the conflict. But ICC membership may not be the panacea that some believe it to be. Even if the court overcame the obstacles to bringing a case, it still might not be able to deliver Israeli suspects to the dock. In the short term, the real value of an ICC case to Palestinians would be the damage to Israel’s legitimacy: it is not so much law as legitimacy that is at stake here. International law is after all unlikely to regulate Israel’s behaviour: the US veto in the UN Security Council makes enforcement effectively impossible. But it does reinforce Palestinian claims and may alter public perceptions of the conflict.

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