ICC is expected to look at possible war crimes committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants during and after the 2014 Gaza war, as well as Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Smoke rises after Israeli missile strikes hit northern Gaza, July 16, 2014.
Smoke rises after Israeli missile strikes hit northern Gaza, July 16, 2014. (AP)

Israel has formally decided not to cooperate with an International Criminal Court war crimes investigation into the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The ICC's chief prosecutor announced on March 3 that she had opened a full investigation into the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories, infuriating Israel, which is not a member of The Hague-based court.

The ICC sent a deferral notice on March 9, giving Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) a month to inform judges whether they are investigating crimes similar to those being probed by the ICC.

Had Israel informed the court that it was in fact carrying out its own probe into alleged war crimes perpetrators, it could have asked for a deferral.

Ahead of the deadline, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office issued a statement saying the government had agreed "to not cooperate" with the ICC.

The court is expected to look at possible war crimes committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants during and after the 2014 Gaza war, as well as Israel's establishment of settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem that now house over 700,000 settlers. International law prohibits the transfer of civilians into occupied territory.

The Palestinians have hailed the probe as a rare opportunity to hold Israel to account for what they say are serious, longstanding violations of international law. The Palestinians were granted nonmember observer status in the UN General Assembly in 2012, allowing them to join international organisations like the ICC.

READ MORE: ICC clears way for probe in Israeli occupied Palestinian territories

Israel denounces probe

Israel says the court is biased against it and has no right to investigate, citing its own judicial processes and the fact that the Palestinians have neither a state nor defined borders.

"In addition to totally rejecting the claim that Israel commits war crimes, Israel reiterates its unequivocal position that the Hague Tribunal has no authority to open an investigation against it,” the government said in a statement, detailing a letter it plans to send to the ICC.

“Israel is committed to the rule of law and will continue to investigate any charges against it regardless of the source, and it expects the tribunal to refrain from violating its authority and sovereignty," the statement said.

The letter is in response to an official notice sent to all parties by the ICC last month. Israel could have argued that it was capable of investigating and prosecuting violations on its own, potentially deferring or even cancelling the ICC's investigation.

Israeli policy 

Experts have said Israel might have succeeded in deferring investigations into possible war crimes by citing its own investigations into alleged misconduct by its soldiers. But the establishment and continuing expansion of settlements has been an official state policy for decades and is allowed under Israeli law.

Israel is not a member of the ICC, but Israeli officials could be subject to arrest in other countries if the court issues warrants against them.

READ MORE: Israel is angered by UN grilling despite getting a free ride for decades

Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but imposed a blockade after Hamas took over from Fatah two years later. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and numerous smaller skirmishes since then.

Most of the international community views the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied territory whose final status should be decided in peace talks.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its unified capital and views the West Bank as the historical and biblical heartland of the Jewish people. There have been no substantive peace talks in more than a decade.

READ MORE: Blinken: Israelis and Palestinians should have 'equal' rights

Source: TRTWorld and agencies