RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories - The Palestinians faced a fresh diplomatic battle Thursday after taking steps to join the International Criminal Court in a move strongly condemned by both Washington and Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the Hague-based ICC to reject the request signed on Wednesday, arguing that the Palestinian Authority (PA) did not rank as a state.
The dramatic bid to join the court, which could pave the way for the Palestinians to sue Israeli officials over alleged war crimes, came less than 24 hours after the UN Security Council rejected a resolution seeking to set a deadline for ending the occupation.
The resolution's failure was hailed by Israel as a success, but Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas who heads the PA moved quickly to sign the ICC request, finally making good on a threat which has been in the offing for years.
The Palestinians hope that joining the court will pave the way for them to seek justice against Israel for its actions in the occupied territories.
"We expect the ICC to reject the hypocritical request by the Palestinian Authority, which is not a state but an entity linked to a terrorist organisation," he said in a statement, referring to the Islamist movement Hamas.
The statement followed talks which Netanyahu chaired at the defence ministry to discuss an Israeli response.
Shortly after the signing, Netanyahu said: "We will rebuff this attempt to force diktats on us just as we repelled the Palestinian appeal to the UN Security Council." And US State Department spokesman Jeffrey Rathke said Washington was "deeply troubled" by the attempt to join the ICC, warning it would only "push the parties further apart".
The ICC can prosecute individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed since July 1, 2002, when the court's founding treaty, the Rome Statute, came into force.
To become a party to the court, the Palestinians must sign and then ratify the treaty.
Abbas signed the ICC request and applications to join 20 other international organisations during a televised leadership meeting at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.
The move was hailed by Hamas, the de facto rulers of the Gaza Strip who issued a statement describing it as "a step in the right direction".
At the same time they urged a meeting of the Palestinian leadership "to stop the security coordination" with Israel.
In 2009, the Palestinians appealed to the ICC to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes during a 22-day Gaza conflict that began in December the previous year, but the request was never processed because they were not considered a state party.
The Palestinians' UN rank was upgraded from observer entity to observer state in 2012, opening the possibility for them to join the ICC and a host of other international organisations.