The International Criminal Court at the Hague heard arguments on Wednesday for and against granting the Palestinian Authority the rights of a state.

The Palestinian Authority wishes to sue Israel over Operation Cast Lead of nearly two years ago, in which Israel attacked Hamas-run Gaza in an attempt to stop incessant rocket and shellfire into Israeli territory. Only states are permitted to file suits in the international court, however.

“If they win here,” one of Israel's advocates in the case, Dr. Dore Gold, told the New York Times, “the big story that will come out of this is that one of the main legal bodies in the international community, the International Criminal Court, acknowledges that the Palestinian Authority already constitutes a state.”

Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo of Argentina, who will make the final decision, heard four presentations in favor of accepting the PA’s suit, and four against. Speaking in favor of the PA were:
  • Former Counsel to the Arab League, Vera Gowlland-Debbas, Professor of Public International Law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva ;
  • Ohio State University Law Professor John Quigley, author of, inter alia, The Case for Palestine: An International Law Perspective;
  • Dr. Chantal Meloni, a senior research fellow in criminal law at the University of Milan; 
  • and University of York’s Dr. Michael Kerney, on behalf of the Ramallah-based human rights organization Al- Haq.

On behalf of Israel were:

  • Dr. Gold, former Israel Ambassador to the UN and president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs;
  • Malcolm Shaw, Professor of International Law at the University of Leicester;
  • David Davenport, research fellow at the Hoover Institute and former president of Pepperdine University;
  • and Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice.

Davenport’s argument focused on three points. First, he said, the Rome Treaty (which established the ICC) specifically states that only “states” can be heard in the Court – a precise formulation that was the result of a compromise following a hotly-contested debate on the matter – and that this is not subject to redefinition by the Court, as defendants deserve to know beforehand where the lines of criminal conduct and criminal jurisdiction are drawn.

Secondly, Davenport argued, the consequences of accepting the PA’s position would have profound consequences on the Middle East peace process, would lead to a loss of confidence in the court for involving itself in primarily political matters, and could invite submissions to the Court from Chechnya, North and South Ossetia, Tibet and groups from Sudan, Iraqi Kurdistan and the Basque region.

Finally, Davenport stated, the ICC need not worry about the consequences of not ruling on the matter, as the issue has been taken up independently of the ICC by Israel and the UN Security Council, and other countries can sue Israel in the ICC if they wish.

Gold: Violation of Oslo
Dr. Gold said that the PA’s bid for recognition via the ICC violates the interim Oslo accords, "which state that the sides will not initiate one-sided steps that will change the status quo until the final status agreements."

A decision is not expected for at least several weeks.