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Australia tried to block ICC probe into Israeli war crimes in Palestine

Australia and other allies of Israel have argued the ICC lacks jurisdiction over Palestine [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 May, 2020

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Australia has claimed the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction over alleged war crimes in Palestine.
The Australian government has attempted to block an ICC investigation into alleged war crimes by Israeli forces by arguing Palestine is "not a state".

Australia was lobbied to argue against the probe by Israel, which is not a party to the International Criminal Court (ICC), The Guardian reported.

Late last year, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced after a five-year preliminary investigation that there were reasonable grounds to believe war crimes had been committed by Israeli forces in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Bensouda seeks to launch a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in Palestine. Before doing so, the prosecutor had asked the Hague-based court's pre-trial chamber to confirm whether the ICC has jurisdiction over alleged offences committed there.

Palestine has been a party to the ICC since 2015, but the Australian government has argued that the Palestinian Authority is not a state and thus cannot be party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the court to investigate the crimes of genocide, aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
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"Australia's position is clear: Australia does not recognise the 'State of Palestine'," Australia's ambassador to the Netherlands, Matthew Neuhaus, said in the country's submission. 

The United Nations seceretary general's acceptance of Palestine's 2015 accession to the Rome Statute was an "administrative act" that did not make it a state, Neuhaus wrote.

Israel "encouraged" Australia to make submissions to the court regarding its proposed probe into alleged war crimes, the chief legal officer with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in Senate estimates.

In February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu included Australia in a list of countries that had responded to Israeli lobbying against the ICC probe.

Read more: Israeli panic over ICC war crimes probe shows Palestinians the way forward

"I would like to commend Germany, Australia, Austria, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Uganda, which have joined the US in a steadfast stand alongside Israel," he told the cabinet.

Israel, which is not a party to the Rome Statue, considers the court a "political instrument in the war against Israel". Netanyahu has also described the probe as "anti-Semitic".

Australia's argument against an ICC investigation echoes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's rebuttal to the proposal in December.

"We firmly oppose this and any other action that seeks to target Israel unfairly," Pompeo said.

"We do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state, and they therefore are not qualified to obtain full membership, or participate as a state in international organisations, entities, or conferences, including the ICC."

Germany, Canada, Hungary, Brazil, the Cezch Republic, Uganda and Austria have also backed the position that the Hague-based court does not hold jurisdiction over the occupied Palestinian territories.

The ICC is expected to respond to concerns over the jurisdiction question in the coming weeks.

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