UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Palestinians will not rush to sign up to the International Criminal Court if they win a U.N. status upgrade on Thursday, but warned that seeking action against Israel in the court would remain an option, said the Palestinian U.N. observer.
The Palestinians appear certain to earn approval in the 193-member U.N. General Assembly for a status upgrade to “observer state” - similar to the Vatican’s rank - from observer “entity.” The move would implicitly recognize Palestinian statehood.
The change would allow the Palestinian territories to access bodies like the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which prosecutes people for genocide, war crimes and other major human rights violations, where it could complain about Israel.
“I don’t believe that we are going to be rushing the second day to join everything related to the United Nations, including the ICC,” Palestinian U.N. observer, Riyad Mansour, told a news conference at the United Nations on Tuesday.
But if Israel continued to violate international law, particularly by building settlements in the West Bank - territory Israel captured in a 1967 war - then Mansour said the Palestinians would consult with friends, including Europe, on “what should we do next to bring Israel into compliance?”
“We’re not in the business of trying to prolong this conflict and settle scores,” Mansour said. “But we are not fools nor dummies. If they don’t move in that direction ... then all of us should be considering all other possible options in order to bring them into compliance.”
Israel and the United States oppose the U.N. move by the Palestinians and have called on President Mahmoud Abbas to return to peace talks that collapsed in 2010 over the Israeli settlement construction. Abbas says he is ready for an unconditional resumption of talks after the U.N. upgrade.
In April, the ICC rejected a Palestinian request to examine alleged crimes in Gaza and the West Bank because the Palestinian territories were not a full U.N. member. But the Palestinian move on Tuesday to downplay their ICC aspirations appeared to be a bid to build European support ahead of the U.N. status vote.
France said on Tuesday it would support the Palestinians bid for U.N. non-member status, but the European vote at the United Nations is split. One senior diplomat said he expected between 11 and 16 European states to vote for the Palestinians, while the rest would be a mix of abstentions and no votes.
“When the question is asked, France will vote yes,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced in the French National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.
After Israeli, British and U.S. diplomats unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Palestinians to drop their bid for a U.N. status upgrade, they then focused on trying to get the Palestinians to guarantee that they would forego complaining about Israel to the ICC. The Palestinians refused.
Israel is concerned the Palestinians could ask the ICC - which is not an official U.N. body - to prosecute its leaders.
Britain, which recently pushed European countries to abstain on the U.N. vote, has asked the Palestinians to forego joining the ICC in return for its vote. Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said London had not yet decided how to vote.
“We have made consistently clear that it is wrong for the Palestinians to bring this resolution to a vote at this time and that it isn’t likely to be a helpful contribution to the peace process in the Middle East,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
One envoy from a European country, as yet undecided on how it will vote, said the Palestinian comments on the ICC were “unlikely to be sufficient” to win broad European backing. “A vague promise not to go to the ICC won’t cut it,” he said.
Mansour said there were currently almost 60 co-sponsors of the Palestinian resolution and that he expected that to increase by the time it is put to a vote in the General Assembly.
“We tried very hard to win the largest number of European countries to vote in favor, we are delighted a certain number have declared their support for our draft resolution,” he said.
European countries were split in voting for a successful Palestinian bid to join the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO in October 2011. The United States cut funding to UNESCO after it admitted the Palestinians as a full member.
The United States has suggested aid for the Palestinians - and possibly some funding for the United Nations - could also be at risk if the Palestinians win the U.N. upgrade. Israel has said it may cancel the Paris Protocol, a key economic accord it maintains with the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.
A 1990s U.S. law prohibits American funds going to U.N. organizations that grant full membership to any group that does not have “internationally recognized attributes” of statehood. The Palestinians are not seeking U.N. membership.
The Palestinians launched their watered-down bid for recognition as an “observer state” after an attempt to gain full U.N. membership last year failed amid U.S. opposition in the U.N. Security Council.
Additional reporting by Noah Browning and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, John Irish in Paris and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem; Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Jackie Frank