Czech Republic Offers ICC to Be 'Friend of the Court' in Israel-Palestine Case

After Israel requests hearing to examine court's jurisdiction to probe war crimes against Palestinians, Czech Republic asks to join proceedings in favor of Israel ■ Germany may also request to take part

Netanyahu with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, July 14, 2019
Marc Israel Sellem

The Czech Republic filed a petition Thursday with the International Criminal Court, requesting to be "a friend of the court" (amicus curiae) in deliberations that will examine if it has the jurisdiction to rule whether Israel committed war crimes against the Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Although Israel tends not to formally take part in such deliberations, as its participation would be perceived as legitimizing the ICC and its procedures, it has requested that a hearing be held to examine the ICC's jurisdiction to probe its treatment of the Palestinians.

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The Czech Republic thus requested to join these proceedings in favor of Israel alongside the Israel Bar Association, which made a similar request on Thursday.

However, the examination of the court's jurisdiction on the matter was initiated at the bequest of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, not Israel.

Israeli officials told Haaretz they welcomed the Czech Republic's decision to join the deliberations, and that efforts were made on Israel's part to promote the matter.

Haaretz has also learned that Germany may also join the proceedings ahead of the Sunday deadline to publish all pending petitions.

The Czech Republic is a member of the Visegrad Group, or V-4, which includes three other Central European countries, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, and is seen as a stronghold of nationalism within the European Union.

In recent years, Netanyahu has boosted ties with the group, in part to undermine the consensus in the corridors of the EU on the Palestinian and Iranian issues.

The Czech Republic is considered a close ally of Israel in international organizations. On a number of occasions, the Czechs have helped head off decisions, including those at the EU, that the Netanyahu government had opposed.

In its petition, the Czech Republic states that it believes the Palestinians have not yet met the requirements for statehood, as required under international law.

According to the petition, "the 'Situation in the State of Palestine', the Czech Republic believes that the issue of the statehood of Palestine should be addressed. This question is closely linked to the question of the Court's jurisdiction and, therefore, relevant."

However, the petition states that "It has been a long-standing position of the Czech Republic that Palestine has not fulfilled yet all the criteria of statehood under international law.

"The Czech Republic, therefor, voted against the admission of Palestine to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on 31 October 2011 and followed the same rationale when it voted against the adoption of the United Nations General Assembly resolution of the Status of Palestine in the United Nations according to Palestine an 'observer State status' on November 2012," the petition reads.

"While the Czech Republic fully supports Palestine's aspirations to future statehood through a comprehensive negotiated agreement with the State of Israel, the membership of Palestine in international organizations or its accession to multilateral treaties, including the Rome Statute, cannot substitute the missing elements of statehood," the petition continues.

In December, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that there is reasonable basis to investigate Israel for its actions but has requested the court to decide over the question of its jurisdiction in the Palestinians territories. Israel's attorney general argued that the ICC, to which Israel is not a party, "lacks jurisdiction in relation to Israel and that any Palestinian actions with respect to the court are legally invalid," as the Palestinian Authority is not a sovereign states, although it has joined the ICC's Rome Statute.

The Prosecutor's Office specifically noted allegations that Israel has been involved in demolishing Palestinian property and evicting Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It also referenced 2014's Operation Protective Edge, the war in the Gaza Strip, as well as Israel's plan to evacuate residents of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar, and Israeli construction of settlements in the West Bank.

In January the ICC said it would delay its debate into whether it has the jurisdiction to probe alleged Israeli war crimes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem due to a procedural error related to the filing's page limit.

Also in January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview on a Christian television network that the International Criminal Court is in a "full frontal attack" on democracy and the Jewish people's right to live in Israel, and called for sanctions on the world court in light of its prosecutor's intent to probe Israel's alleged war crimes against Palestinians.