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Palestinians ask ICC to investigate Trump and Netanyahu over annexation

Four residents of the West Bank tell International Criminal Court they have been affected by US 'deal of the century'
Protest in Tel Aviv denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, 23 June (AFP)

A group of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank submitted a complaint on Tuesday to the International Criminal Court (ICC), requesting an investigation into senior Israeli and US officials who authorised Donald Trump's “Peace to Prosperity” plan.

William Schabas, a professor of international law at the UK's Middlesex University, filed the complaint on behalf of his clients citing Israel's plans to unilaterally and illegally annex up to a third of the West Bank, a scheme that gained traction after Trump's plan was launched in January.

Schabas asked the ICC's prosecutor to probe the acts of Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and architect of the scheme commonly known as the "deal of the century".

In a statement, Schabas said “there is credible evidence” that Trump, Pompeo and Kushner “are complicit in acts that may amount to war crimes relating to the transfer of populations into occupied territory and the annexation of the sovereign territory of the State of Palestine”.

'The threatened annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel is an international crime defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court'

- William Schabas, lawyer

The four Palestinian residents of the West Bank Schabas represents, Ahmad al-Khaldi, Gassan Khaled, Hasan M Masan and Abderrahman F Zaidan, are directly affected by Trump's plan, he said.

Under the Peace to Prosperity scheme, a disjointed "independent" Palestinian rump state would be established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip through land swaps and Israeli annexation. It would leave the Palestinian territories an archipelago of areas joined up through a series of tunnels and bridges, without control of its own borders.

However, elements of the Israeli government seem keen to press ahead with annexation with or without US coordination, and its plans could be revealed as early as Wednesday. Washington may still give its public blessing to such a move, despite it being taken without moves towards establishing a Palestinian state as outlined in the Peace to Prosperity plan.

“The threatened annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel is an international crime defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It is intricately linked to the war crime of changing the population of an occupied territory," Schabas said.

Efforts to investigate Israel in the ICC previously have been acrimonious.

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Late last year, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced a full-scale investigation into Israeli violations against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

"I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine," Bensouda said in a statement in December.

"In brief, I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip."

The decision was fiercely rejected by Israel and the US, and earlier this month Trump announced he was placing sanctions on ICC officials investigating abuses by Americans and Israelis, claiming that the Hague-based tribunal has no "jurisdiction over personnel of the United States and certain of its allies".

Though Israel is not a signatory of the ICC's Rome Statute, the Palestinian Authority is.