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International Criminal Court opens Israel-Palestine war crimes probe

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Wednesday announced her intention to open an investigation into crimes allegedly committed in the Palestinian territories since 2014.

Why it matters: The investigation is expected to consider possible war crimes by Israel and Hamas during the 2014 war in Gaza, as well as the construction of West Bank settlements by Israel. It could sharply increase tensions between Israel, which fiercely opposes the probe, and Palestinian leaders, who initially requested it.

  • The investigation will also force the Biden administration to wade into the Israel-Palestine conflict, which had been very low on its foreign policy priorities list.
  • Israel is very concerned that any investigation could lead to international arrest warrants against Israeli officials and military officers and could boost BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns against Israel.

The latest: The Palestinian foreign ministry welcomed the decision as an opportunity for justice and accountability and called for a swift investigation.

  • Netanyahu called the investigation an "attack" on Israel and vowed to "fight for the truth."
  • "The biased International Criminal Courts took a hypocritical and anti-Semitic decision," he said. "The court doesn't say anything about the real war crimes Iran and Syria commit."

What's next: Bensouda said the priorities of the investigation will be determined in the coming weeks, taking into consideration coronavirus-related operational challenges, the limited resources of her office and the current heavy workload.

  • Bensouda made this decision in her final months in office, and it's unclear whether she has coordinated with her successor.

What she's saying: “Any investigation undertaken by the Office will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favor," Bensouda said in a statement.

  • She added that the investigation will take time and be grounded in facts and the law. "My office will take the same principled, non-partisan approach that it has adopted in all situations over which its jurisdiction is seized. We have no agenda other than to meet our statutory duties under the Rome Statute with professional integrity," she said.

Flashback: The Trump administration joined Israel in mounting a vigorous campaign to block a potential investigation, including by placing sanctions on Bensouda and other court officials.

  • ICC judges cleared the way for a potential investigation last month when they ruled that the court has jurisdiction in the West Bank and Gaza. (Israel isn't a party to the Rome Statute, which set the court's mandate, but the Palestinian territories are.)
  • Israel asked dozens of allies to convey a "discreet message" to urge Bensouda not to move forward with the probe, as Axios reported two weeks ago. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu also asked President Biden not to remove the U.S. sanctions against the court.

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