RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) - President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday signed a Palestinian request to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), seeking a new avenue for action against Israel after a failed UN resolution on ending the occupation.
The Palestinians hope ICC membership will pave the way for war crimes prosecutions against Israeli officials for their actions in the occupied territories.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly hit back, saying the Palestinians have "more to fear" than Israel from the Hague-based court.
He cited the Palestinian leadership's links to Hamas, the militant group which Israel describes as a "terrorist organisation" and which is part of a unity government with Abbas's Fatah movement.
The ICC can prosecute individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and Palestinian plans to become a party to the court have been strongly opposed by Israel and the United States.
Abbas signed the request along with applications to join 20 other international conventions during a meeting broadcast live on Palestinian television.
It came one day after the UN Security Council rejected a resolution on ending the Israeli occupation.
The resolution would have set a 12-month deadline for Israel to reach a final peace deal with the Palestinians, and called for a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Palestinian territories by the end of 2017.
Israel hailed the rejection as a victory, saying it dealt a blow to Palestinian efforts to diplomatically "embarrass and isolate" the Jewish state.
The Palestinians denounced as "outrageously shameful" the failure of the text to win the necessary nine votes for passage.
FRENCH ENVOY SUMMONED
Council heavyweights China, France and Russia were among eight countries voting in favour, while the United States and Australia voted against.
Nigeria, which had been expected to support the resolution, was among five abstentions, which included Britain, Rwanda, Lithuania and South Korea.
Nigeria had assured the Palestinians it would support them, but abstained after lobbying efforts by Israel and Washington.
Israel on Wednesday summoned the French ambassador, saying it was "disappointed and perplexed" by his country's support for the UN resolution.
The failure to win the nine votes necessary for adoption spared Washington having to wield its veto, which would have caused it embarrassment with key Arab allies.
But it was also a diplomatic blow for the Palestinians, who had counted on the symbolic victory of nine votes, even though the resolution would in all likelihood have been vetoed by the United States.
Speaking Wednesday, Netanyahu extended his special thanks to Nigeria and Rwanda.
"This is what tipped the scales," he said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the resolution's failure "should teach the Palestinians that provocations and attempts to force Israel into unilateral processes will not achieve anything - quite the opposite."
But Russia denounced the outcome of the UN vote as "a strategic error."
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi also expressed regret, criticising the African nations that abstained and pledging to continue "intensive Arab diplomatic activity" in support of the Palestinian cause.
The Palestinians reacted furiously to the vote.
"The UN Security Council vote is outrageously shameful," said senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi.
"Those countries that abstained demonstrated a lack of political will to hold Israel accountable and to act in accordance with the global rule of law and international humanitarian law."
The Islamist movement Hamas blamed Abbas for the setback, demanding he "make good" on threats to cut security cooperation with Israel and join the ICC.