In joining the international criminal court, Mahmoud Abbas has finally used one of the most potent diplomatic weapons in the limited Palestinian armoury after years of unfulfilled threats. It is a gesture of near despair by a leader with little left to lose.
Signing the Rome statute opens up Palestinian territory to future ICC investigations, a situation which Israel fought a long and intense battle behind the scenes to avoid. It could one day put Israeli soldiers and officials in the dock of an international court for military operations and for the policy of building Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
ICC membership is a powerful weapon but it is also double-edged. It defines the geographical area in which such crimes can be investigated, and the Palestinian leadership could also define a time period for the prosecutors to examine, but it cannot dictate the target of such an investigation. For example, if Abbas now seeks a retroactive investigation of the last bloody bout of violence in Gaza last summer, as he has the right to do, both the Israel Defence Forces and Hamas would be scrutinised for their actions.
Picture: World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland (AbuMazem) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons