Palestinians file war crimes claim over future of West Bank hamlet

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- A top official said Tuesday the Palestinians have filed a new complaint against Israel with the International Criminal Court, after the United States said it would resort to any means to protect its allies against such actions at the international war crimes body.

The move comes a day after the U.S. closed the Palestinian de facto embassy in Washington because of its leaders' refusal to enter peace talks with Israel. National security adviser John Bolton also lashed out at the Palestinians for their attempts to have Israel prosecuted at the ICC, denouncing the court's legitimacy and threatening sanctions if it targeted Israel and others.

But at a news conference in Ramallah, Saeb Erekat doubled down by saying the Palestinians have asked the ICC to investigate Israel's planned demolition of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar in the West Bank.

He also indicated the Palestinians plan to join other international bodies.

Erekat said the Palestinians have asked the chief prosecutor to meet with village representatives and include Israel's actions as part of her investigation into possible war crimes by Israel.

"The U.S. threats against the ICC are a coup against the rules in the international system," he said. "The Trump administration wants to dismantle the international order to ensure that it can stay above the laws and escape accountability."

Israel has long denounced Palestinian efforts to globalize their conflict by turning to external bodies with what it considers bogus claims. In particular, it says the ICC lacks jurisdiction because Israel is not a member of the court.

The Trump administration dramatically ratchetted up its rhetoric by threatening sanctions if the court pursues investigations against the U.S., Israel or other allies. Bolton said the ICC "is already dead" to the U.S.

"The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel's right to self-defense," he said in a speech to The Federalist Society, a conservative, Washington-based think tank.

The administration also cited the refusal of Palestinian leaders to enter into peace talks with Israel as the reason for closing the Palestinian Liberation Organization office in Washington, although the U.S. has yet to present its plan to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinians accuse the administration of dismantling decades of U.S. engagement with them by blatantly siding with Israel. The closure of the PLO office was the latest in a series of moves targeting the Palestinians. Just last month, it canceled more than $200 million in aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza as well as the remainder of its planned assistance for the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees around the Middle East. Over the weekend, it announced it would cut $25 million in assistance for hospitals in east Jerusalem that provide critical care to Palestinian patients.

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