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Abbas signs bid to join ICC

Dec. 31, 2014 6:55 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 2, 2015 9:38 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (AFP) -- President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday signed a Palestinian request to join the International Criminal Court, seeking a new avenue for action against Israel after a failed UN resolution on ending the occupation.

The Palestinian leadership hopes ICC membership will pave the way for war crimes prosecutions against Israeli officials for their actions in the occupied territories.

But Israel said Palestinian crimes would be exposed to the judgement of the Hague-based court if Palestine joined.

Tuesday's vote at the Security Council came after a three-month Palestinian campaign to win support for a resolution that would have set a timeframe for ending the Israeli occupation.

Israel hailed the rejection as a victory, saying it dealt a blow to Palestinian efforts to diplomatically "embarrass and isolate" Israel.

The Palestinians denounced as "outrageously shameful" the failure of the text to win the necessary nine votes for passage.

The resolution would have set a 12-month deadline for Israel to reach a final peace deal with the Palestinians and called for a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Palestinian territories by the end of 2017.

Council heavyweights China, France, and Russia were among eight countries voting in favor, while the United States and Australia voted against.

Nigeria, which had been expected to support the resolution, was among five abstentions, which included Britain, Rwanda, Lithuania, and South Korea.

Nigeria had assured the Palestinians it would support them, but abstained after lobbying efforts by Israel and Washington.

The failure to win the nine votes necessary for adoption spared Washington having to wield its veto, which would have caused it embarrassment with key Arab allies.

But it was also a diplomatic blow for the Palestinians, who had counted on the symbolic victory of nine votes, even though the resolution would in all likelihood have vetoed by the United States.

Speaking Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended his special thanks to Nigeria and Rwanda.

"This is what tipped the scales," he said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said "the failure of the Palestinian vote at the Security Council should teach the Palestinians that provocations and attempts to force Israel into unilateral processes will not achieve anything -- quite the opposite."

But Russia said the council's failure to pass the resolution was "a strategic error."

'Shameful'

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi expressed regret over the outcome, criticizing the African nations that abstained and pledging to continue "intensive Arab diplomatic activity" in support of the Palestinian cause.

The Palestinians reacted furiously to the vote and pledged to press ahead immediately with an application for ICC membership.

"The UN Security Council vote is outrageously shameful," said senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi.

"Those countries that abstained demonstrated a lack of political will to hold Israel accountable and to act in accordance with the global rule of law and international humanitarian law.

The Islamist movement Hamas blamed Abbas for the setback, demanding he make good on threats to cut security cooperation with Israel and join the ICC.

"He is now facing two choices after this failure ... he must make good on his threats to end security cooperation with the occupier, and sign the Rome Statute," spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP, referring to the court's founding treaty.

Senior officials said Abbas would sign the Rome Statute later Wednesday, along with 15 other international conventions, in a move that would be discussed with the leadership at 6:30 p.m.

The ICC can prosecute individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and Palestinian plans to become a party to the court have been strongly opposed by Israel and the United States.

Israel warned that joining the court would also expose Palestinians to prosecution.

"The Palestinians will themselves be judged by this court, which will show the world the nature of Palestinian terrorism and the war crimes committed in the name of the Palestinian Authority," foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told AFP.
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