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Palestine signs up for the International Criminal Court, risking backlash from the U.S. and Israel

The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, signed today the necessary documents to join the International Criminal Court. It is a risky move that is nearly certain to spark reprisals from Israel and the United States, since it could theoretically result in war crimes prosecutions against Israeli officials.

Mr. Abbas is in a political bind. His popularity has tanked since the conflict this year between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which killed over 2,000 people — about three-quarters of them civilians, according to the UN. He first tried to obtain official sovereign status for Palestine at the UN, but that failed yesterday. Hamas had sharply criticized this strategy, arguing that it was a mere stunt since the United States will certainly veto any Palestine statehood resolution that is voted through the Security Council.

The United States and Israel have promised harsh sanctions, something the PA is well aware of. "This could indeed be the beginning of the end of the P.A. They fully realize that," Khalil Shikaki, a West Bank policy expert, told The New York Times. But with Hamas looming as a potential victor in new elections, and no prayer of Israel stopping the occupation on its own, joining the ICC is one of the few options open to Mr. Abbas.