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Palestinians joining International Criminal Court; U.S., Israel object

Palestinian President Abbas signs papers to join International Criminal Court, pursue war crimes charges

A day after a bruising defeat in the United Nations, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed papers Wednesday to join the International Criminal Court, which will give the Palestinians a venue to pursue war crimes charges against Israel.

Israel and the United States immediately condemned the move, and Israeli officials said it could backfire by allowing them to pursue charges in the ICC against the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinians had threatened to sign on to dozens of international organizations, including the court, if their U.N. Security Council bid for independence failed.

Abbas signed the papers to join the Rome Statute of the ICC -- its founding treaty -- as well as 19 other international and United Nations organizations at the opening of a leadership meeting in Ramallah called to discuss the next step after failure of the U.N. bid.

"We want to complain," Abbas told the televised meeting. "They [Israel] attack us and our land every day. So to whom should we complain? The Security Council had failed us. Where should we go? There is an international organization and we are going to complain to it."

The draft U.N. resolution submitted Tuesday, which demanded a withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied territories by 2017, needed nine "yes" votes from the 15-member Security Council to succeed. It received eight, with the United States and Australia voting no, and five members, including Nigeria, abstaining.

Israeli officials were gratified by the vote, but responded angrily to the decision to join the ICC.

“It is the Palestinian Authority -- which is in a unity government with Hamas, an avowed terrorist organization that, like ISIS, perpetrates war crimes -- that needs to be concerned about the International Criminal Court in The Hague," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

"We will take steps in response and we will defend the soldiers of the IDF, the most moral army in the world," he added. "We will rebuff this additional attempt to force diktat on us, just like we rebuffed the Palestinian appeal to the U.N. Security Council.”

Israel previously said it would impose financial and other sanctions against the Palestinian Authority if it went ahead with its plans to join international organizations.

The U.S. State Department said it was “deeply troubled” by the Palestinian move, describing it in a statement as a counterproductive “escalatory step that will not achieve any of the outcomes that most Palestinians have long hoped to achieve for their people.”

A pollster, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, found in December that three quarters of Palestinians want ICC membership, in a sign of the pressure on Abbas to take the step.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that by signing on to the Rome Statute, Abbas had paved the way to file cases before the ICC and would send a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon promising to honor the treaty's terms.

Erekat said it will take 30 to 90 days for membership in the various organizations and treaties to take effect.

The other treaties have to do with the spread of nuclear and conventional weapons, along with several others on war crimes and articles in the Geneva Convention.

Palestinian membership in the U.N. was upgraded to that of a nonmember observer state in November 2012, allowing it to join U.N. organizations.

Abukhater is a special correspondent. Batsheva Sobelman in The Times' Jerusalem bureau and Times staff writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

1 p.m.: This post has been updated with response from the United States.

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