JERUSALEM — Just days after winning upgraded status at the United Nations, the Palestinians are already threatening to join the world's first permanent war crimes court and pursue charges against the Israelis.
Although the Palestinians say that any decision is still a long ways off, the mere threat has unnerved Israel. But pressing a case may not be so simple and could potentially leave the Palestinians themselves vulnerable to prosecution.
Since winning recognition as a nonmember observer state in the United Nations General Assembly last week, the Palestinians believe they now qualify for membership in the International Criminal Court.
In opposing the Palestinian bid at the U.N., Israel repeatedly cited Palestinian threats to turn to the ICC to prosecute Israeli officials for a variety of alleged crimes, ranging from actions by the Israeli military to Israel's construction of Jewish settlements on occupied land.
On the surface, the Palestinians appear to have a strong case against Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim the two areas, as well as the Gaza Strip, for their future state.
The U.N. resolution last week recognized a Palestinian state in all three territories, captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but continues to control access in and out of the area.
The ICC's founding charter describes the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies as a war crime.
The Palestinian position on settlements has widespread international support. The international community, even Israel's closest ally, the U.S., has broadly condemned the latest planned settlement construction.
Even so, turning this international opposition into legal action against Israel will be no small task. The Palestinians would face a number of legal and political obstacles in pressing forward.
So far, the court has said only that it takes note of last week's U.N. decision and will consider its legal implications. A U.N. report into heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas four years ago found evidence of war crimes by both sides.