Israel is weighing more steps to punish the Palestinians for their efforts to join the International Criminal Court, even as it froze $125 million in tax revenues it collects for them.
The Palestinian bid to join the Hague-based court could lead to war crime charges against the Jewish state, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Sunday that his country would not allow its military to be prosecuted.
"The Palestinian Authority chose to confront the state of Israel and we will not stand idly by. We will not allow Israeli soldiers and commanders to be dragged to the International Criminal Court at the Hague. The leaders of the Palestinian Authority are the ones who need to face justice for forging an alliance with Hamas' war criminals," he said.
One Israeli official said the country was about to "switch from defense to attack mode," and could file lawsuits against Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and other officials in the United States and elsewhere.
The Palestinians rely on the monthly tax revenue transfer to run their government and pay the salaries of civil servants.
A senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, condemned the Israeli action and said it would not deter the Palestinians from their bid to join the ICC.
The Israelis announced the freeze on the revenue transfer a day after Palestinian officials submitted documents to the United Nations to join the ICC, a move that will enable them to seek war crimes charges against Israel.
Abbas signed the documents after the U.N. Security Council rejected a draft resolution setting a three-year deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state on lands occupied by Israel after the 1967 war.
On Friday, the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., Riyad Mansour, said submission of the documents was a "very significant step" that was necessary to seek justice for alleged crimes against the Palestinian people. He also said the Palestinians were seeking retroactive jurisdiction from the ICC for crimes committed during last year's Gaza conflict.
A top U.S. official told the Reuters news agency the Palestinian action to join ICC could have implications for U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority.
By becoming members of the ICC, the Palestinians could also open themselves up to counter-charges of war crimes from others.
The United States has said it is deeply troubled by the Palestinian action. A State Department spokesman said the move was counterproductive and did nothing to further Palestinian aspirations for an independent state.
The International Criminal Court has recognized the U.N. General Assembly's recognition of Palestine as an observer state. Handing over the documents is the last formal step for the Palestinians to become a member of the ICC, which would take at least 60 days.
After years of discussion by U.N. members, the ICC was formed in 1998 when 120 countries adopted the Rome Statute. The court is considered an independent judicial institution without any supervision by the United Nations.
The ICC prosecutes suspects accused of genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity. It has no power to make arrests but does have the authority to issue arrest warrants, which could make it a problem for suspects to travel.
Some information for this report came from AP and AFP.