The International Criminal Court prosecutor announced Tuesday that he has rejected a bid by the Palestinian Authority to have the war crimes tribunal investigate Israeli conduct during "Operation Cast Lead" in Gaza that left nearly 1,400 Palestinians dead, including 300 children.
In a statement, the ICC prosecutor acknowledged that over 130 countries and some U.N. bodies recognizeas a state.
But, Palestine still holds observer status in the U.N., and so the ICC cannot at this time investigate allegations of war crimes committed on Palestinian territory, the prosecutor said.
President Mahmoud Abbas applied for full U.N. membership in September at the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. vowed to use its veto to block the bid and the council has not yet made any recommendation to admit Palestine.
The ICC said it could in the future consider allegations of crimes committed in Palestine if the Security Council determines that Palestine is a state.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International said the ICC's decision meant victims of Israel's war on Gaza were likely to be denied justice. The prosecutor's decision opened the ICC to accusations of political bias, it added.
The rights group said ICC judges should decide on the court's jurisdiction. It said the prosecutor had "dodged the question," after considering it for three years.
"For the past three years, the prosecutor has been considering the question of whether the Palestinian Authority is a "state" that comes under the jurisdiction of the ICC and whether the ICC can investigate crimes committed during the 2008-9 conflict in Gaza and southern Israel," said Marek Marczynski, head of Amnesty International’s International Justice campaign.
"Now, despite Amnesty International’s calls and a very clear requirement in the ICC’s statute that the judges should decide on such matters, the Prosecutor has erroneously dodged the question, passing it to other political bodies," he added.
Most of the 1,400 Palestinians killed in Operation Cast Lead were civilians.
According to U.N. figures, Israel's military destroyed over 3,500 residential homes and made 20,000 people homeless during the 22-day assault.
A U.N. fact-finding mission tasked with investigating allegations of war crimes found that Israel committed "grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of willful killings and willfully causing great suffering to protected persons."
Later on Tuesday, Israel welcomed the decision by the ICC to hold off on a preliminary probe.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement following the ruling: "Israel has noted the ICC's ruling saying that at this time, The Hague will not hear any of the complaints filed by the PA. Israel has made it clear from the very beginning that the court has no jurisdiction over the matter.
"The matter has been dealt with by interministerial teams, lead by the Justice and Foreign ministries, in collaboration with other elements.
"While Israel welcomes the ruling, it still has reservations as to some of the legal statements made by the International Criminal Court’s General Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo ."