ICC clears way for war crimes probe of Israeli actions

FILE - In this Tuesday Aug. 28, 2018 file photo, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands. The ICC says its jurisdiction extends to territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, appearing to clear the way for its chief prosecutor to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions. Bensouda, said in 2019 that there was a reasonable basis to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip as well as Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. (Bas Czerwinski/Pool file via AP, File)

JERUSALEM – The International Criminal Court said Friday that its jurisdiction extends to territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, potentially clearing the way for its chief prosecutor to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions.

The decision was welcomed by the Palestinians and decried by Israel's prime minister, who vowed to fight “this perversion of justice.” The U.S., Israel's closest ally, said it opposed the decision.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in 2019 that there was a “reasonable basis” to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip as well as Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank. But she asked the court to determine whether she has territorial jurisdiction before proceeding.

In a statement on Twitter, Bensouda's office welcomed the “judicial clarity” of the ruling, but said it needed time before deciding how to proceed.

“The Office is currently carefully analysing the decision & will then decide its next step guided strictly by its independent & impartial mandate,” it said.

The Palestinians, who joined the court in 2015, have pushed for an investigation. Israel, which is not a member of the ICC, has said the court has no jurisdiction because the Palestinians do not have statehood and because the borders of any future state are to be decided in peace talks. It also accuses the court of inappropriately wading into political issues.

The Palestinians have asked the court to look into Israeli actions during its 2014 war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, as well as Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem.

The international community widely considers the settlements to be illegal under international law but has done little to pressure Israel to freeze or reverse their growth.