Arusha, January 17, 2015 (FH) – International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced Friday she is opening a preliminary examination into possible war crimes committed in Palestine. Israel reacted angrily on Sunday with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman calling on ICC member states to stop funding the Court.

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Bensouda’s decision follows Palestine’s accession to the ICC’s founding treaty, the Statute of Rome, on January 2. The Palestinian Authority had filed a declaration the previous day accepting ICC jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed "in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, since June 13, 2014."

The date means the examination may also include alleged crimes committed by both Israel and Hamas in last summer’s war in Gaza.

A preliminary examination is not an investigation, explains Friday’s ICC press release, but rather a process to determine if there is a “reasonable basis” to conduct an investigation. Under the Rome Statute, the Prosecutor must consider “issues of jurisdiction, admissibility and the interests of justice in making this determination”. The Rome Statute does not impose any deadline for a decision.

The office of the ICC Prosecutor has conducted a preliminary examination of the situation in Palestine in the past, after receiving a declaration from the Palestinian Authority on January 22, 2009. It concluded in April 2012 that Palestine’s status at the time as an “observer entity” at the United Nations meant it could not join the Rome Statute.

However, in November 2012 the UN recognized Palestine as a “non-member observer State”. The Palestinian Authorities subsequently began the procedure to join the Rome Statute. The UN Secretary General accepted Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute on January 6, 2015.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday slammed the ICC, saying it was a “political institution”. “We will lobby our friends in Canada, Australia and Germany to simply stop funding it,” media reports quoted him as saying.