BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The International Criminal Court will not investigate Israel's conduct during its December 2008 offensive on Gaza because Palestine is not a state, the world prosecutor said Tuesday.
In a statement, the ICC prosecutor acknowledged that over 130 countries and some UN bodies recognize Palestine as a state.
But, Palestine still holds observer status in the UN, and so the ICC cannot at this time investigate allegations of war crimes committed on Palestinian territory, the prosecutor said.
President Mahmoud Abbas applied for full UN membership in September at the UN Security Council. The US vowed to use its veto to block the bid and the council has not yet made any recommendation to admit Palestine.
The ICC said it could in the future consider allegations of crimes committed in Palestine if the Security Council determines that Palestine is a state.Israel 'worked quietly' against bid
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday that diplomats had worked against the Palestinian request for an ICC investigation into Operation Cast Lead, Israel's 3-week offensive on the Gaza Strip that left nearly 1,400 Palestinians dead, including 300 children.
Commenting on the ICC's rejection of the bid for a tribunal, Lieberman said: "Not many understand how much work has been put into this issue," the Israeli news site Ynet reported.
"We have kept it out of the media," Lieberman said. "The Foreign Minister worked very professionally, discreetly and quietly." ICC 'open to accusations of political bias'
Amnesty International said the ICC's decision meant victims of Israel's war on Gaza were likely to be denied justice. The prosecutor's decision opened the ICC to accusations of political bias, it added.
The rights group said ICC judges should decide on the court's jurisdiction. It said the prosecutor had "dodged the question," after considering it for three years.
"For the past three years, the prosecutor has been considering the question of whether the Palestinian Authority is a "state" that comes under the jurisdiction of the ICC and whether the ICC can investigate crimes committed during the 2008-9 conflict in Gaza and southern Israel," said Marek Marczynski, head of Amnesty International’s International Justice campaign.
"Now, despite Amnesty International’s calls and a very clear requirement in the ICC’s statute that the judges should decide on such matters, the Prosecutor has erroneously dodged the question, passing it to other political bodies," he added.
Most of the 1,400 Palestinians killed in Operation Cast Lead were civilians.
According to UN figures, Israel's military destroyed over 3,500 residential homes and made 20,000 people homeless during the 22-day assault.
A UN fact-finding mission tasked with investigating allegations of war crimes found that Israel committed "grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of willful killings and willfully causing great suffering to protected persons."