The question of Palestinian membership in the International Criminal Court has become a battleground in the Israel-Palestine conflict. For months the Palestinian Authority has been threatening to join the ICC. Israel and its Western allies are vigorously opposed to this and have threatened to withdraw financial aid from the PA if it pursues membership. The US senate, for example, debated legislation in 2012 that would cut off millions of dollars in assistance to the PA, and the EU has reportedly said it will withhold aid for re-building Gaza after the latest assault, if the PA were to bring a case against Israel. As a result the PA has delayed joining the Court and instead has been using the threat of membership to try to extract concessions from Israel; for instance, the ICC was reportedly discussed during recent negotiations over a Gaza ceasefire.
But in the midst of this controversy it is easy to lose sight of some basic questions: Why is Palestinian ICC membership so important and what has Israel to fear from it? The answer is that the ICC can try persons of any nationality for crimes committed on the territory of the states that have signed its Rome Statute. This means that, were Palestine to join the Court, Israeli leaders could be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the West Bank and Gaza, even though Israel is not a member of the ICC.