An opinion piece in Al-Jazeera by an international lawyer who works with the Palestinians, John Whitbeck, reports some interesting comments by Fatou Bensouda about Palestinian ratification:
During a public discussion held at the Academie Diplomatique Internationale in Paris on March 20, Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, addressed the potential membership of Palestine in the ICC. During the question time, she was asked:
“If and when the State of Palestine, whose state status has now been overwhelmingly confirmed by the UN General Assembly, revives its application for ICC membership, what will be the procedure for considering its application and, if it is approved, would the court’s jurisdiction be retroactive to 2002, permitting prosecutions for crimes already committed in Palestine or by Palestinians?”
She started her reply by recalling why Palestine’s initial application was not approved — essentially, as was clear from the ICC’s response, the court’s view that it was not the role of the court, but rather the role of the UN General Assembly, to determine who was or was not a state. She then went on to say that, now that the UN General Assembly had made its determination that Palestine is a state, “the ball is now in the court of Palestine”, “Palestine has to come back” and “we are waiting for them”.
While she said, unsurprisingly, that any new application would have to be considered, there was no ambiguity or suspense as to the result of the requisite consideration. It was clear that, in her eyes, ICC membership for the State of Palestine was Palestine’s for the asking. There was even a hint of puzzlement that the ICC had not heard from Palestine subsequent to the UN vote.
On the issue of retroactivity, she said that she did not think that any retroactivity could extend back to the birth of the court in 2002 – at most, if prior to Palestine’s formal accession to the Rome Statute, to November 29, 2012, when the UN General Assembly determined the issue of Palestine’s state status.
There is nothing particularly new here, but the retroactivity comment is useful. As a theoretical matter, I think the ICC could determine that Palestine qualified as a state prior to the UNGA resolution upgrading its status. But I think that the Court would be well-advised to take a conservative approach to Palestinian ratification — and as Whitbeck notes in his piece, the less retroactive Palestine’s acceptance of the Court’s jurisdiction (perhaps even purely prospective, from the date of ratification), the more difficult it will be for Israel to complain about it.
That said, as I’ve pointed out before, Palestine has reason to be wary of even prospective ratification. The ICC would find it much easier to prosecute Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel than Israel’s expansion of the settlements or disproportionate attacks on Gaza.