Source: Israel HaYom, By Ariel Kahana Published on 03-23-2020 06:35

Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda seeks more time before deciding whether a criminal investigation into Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip as well as Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank is warranted.

Fatou Bensouda, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, announced Sunday that the decision on whether to launch a full-scale investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel will be delayed for at least a month, citing the global coronavirus pandemic.

Bensouda was slated to file her brief on the matter on March 30. The document is supposed to addresses all the briefs and depositions on the matter and could be 1,800-pages long. However, the pandemic has forced The Hague to shutter and she has asked for an extension on the matter until April 30.

She further warned that The Hauge may not fully resume operations right away even after The Netherlands lifts the restrictions imposed on its public and private sectors over the coronavirus, saying she may need a second extension to properly address the Israeli-Palestinian case.

Bensouda has previously argued that there was a “reasonable basis” to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip as well as Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. She has asked the court to determine whether she has territorial jurisdiction before proceeding with the case.

The question of jurisdiction is key as The Hague only has power over countries that are signatory to the Rome Statute.

Israel is not an ICC member. The Palestinian Authority joined the treaty empowering The Hague in 2015, with the explicit purpose of dragging Israeli officials before the international court.

The core issue at this time remains whether the ICC Pretrial Chamber will view “Palestine” as a state, and what territory it would say it has jurisdiction over. As there is no official “State of Palestine,” the ICC would, in theory, be required to deny the petition.

Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who heads the Shurat HaDin Israeli Law Center and who has presented the ICC with a legal opinion seeking to debunk Bensouda’s claims, said, “The coronavirus is just an excuse. The prosecutor did not expect the influx of petitions seeking to weigh in on this case. She needs these two months just to sift through them. The coronavirus isn’t the issue here – she can work from home.”