Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday launched a furious critique of the International Criminal Court and its prosecutor for initiating a probe into alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza last summer at the request of the Palestinian Authority. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called the probe “scandalous,” and also said it stemmed from Israel’s international isolation.
Netanyahu termed the decision absurd, said it breached the ICC’s own rules, warned that “other terrorist war criminals” would follow suit in filing complaints, and said the ICC was subverting its own “lofty goals” which were to prevent the repetition of history’s worst crimes including the Holocaust.
“Israel rejects the absurd decision of the ICC prosecutor… to go after Israel,” he said in a statement. “It’s absurd for the ICC to ignore international law and agreements, under which the Palestinians don’t have a state and can only get one through direct negotiations with Israel.” Since they have no state, the Palestinians have “no standing” at the ICC, and thus “no case,” he said.
The prime minister said Israel “upholds the highest standards of international law. Our actions are subject to the constant and careful review of Israel’s world-renowned and utterly independent legal system.” Furthermore, “Israel is legitimately defending itself against Palestinian terrorists who routinely commit multiple war crimes. They deliberately fire thousands of rockets at our civilians, while hiding behind Palestinian civilians whom they use a human shield.” Thus the decision to probe Israel’s conduct “is even more preposterous,” he said.
The “ultimate folly” of the decision, however, was that it is “the democracy of Israel, a world leader in fighting terrorism, which is to be hauled to the dock in The Hague, while the terrorist war criminals of Hamas are the ones who are going to be pressing the charges. I won’t be surprised if ISIS, al-Qaida and Hezbollah follow suit. See, Hamas has already announced that they will join their Palestinian partner, President Abbas, in filing complaints against Israel as a result of this decision. So we see here something truly tragic.”
Netanyahu said “the lofty goals of the ICC are being turned upside-down. The court was founded to prevent a repeat of history’s worst crimes, foremost among them the genocide of six million Jews. Now the Palestinians are cynically manipulating the ICC to deny the Jewish state the right to defend itself against the very war crimes and the very terror that the court was established to prevent.”
Earlier Saturday, Hamas welcomed the ICC’s decision to probe Israel, saying it would provide the tribunal with evidence to aid the investigation.
“What is needed now is to quickly take practical steps in this direction and we are ready to provide [the court] with thousands of reports and documents that confirm the Zionist enemy has committed horrible crimes against Gaza and against our people,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
Prosecutors in The Hague announced on Friday that the preliminary examination would review “in full independence and impartiality” alleged crimes committed since June 13 last year, the beginning of tensions between the two sides that culminated in Operation Protective Edge — a 50-day conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza that resulted in the deaths of approximately 2,200 Palestinians, according to Hamas figures, and 72 people on the Israeli side.
The probe, however, may also pave the way for Palestinians to be prosecuted for war crimes as well.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine,” her office said in a statement, adding it may lead to a full-blown investigation. Bensouda said in a statement she would conduct the preliminary examination with “full independence and impartiality.”
Potential cases Bensouda could take on include allegations of war crimes by Israel during last summer’s Gaza war where the Palestinians suffered heavy civilian casualties. Israel’s settlement construction on land claimed by the Palestinians could also be examined. The cases could also include alleged war crimes by Hamas, the Islamist terror group which controls Gaza, including the firing of thousands of rockets at Israeli residential areas from crowded neighborhoods.
The prosecutor’s announcement came after the PA acceded to The Hague-based court’s founding treaty and recognized its jurisdiction dating back to July, the eve of the last Gaza war. That move opened the door to an ICC investigation that could target possible crimes by both Israel, which is not a member of the court, and Palestinians.
“A preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with a (full) investigation,” Bensouda said.
Depending on her findings, Bensouda will decide at a later stage whether to launch or quash the investigation, based on the initial probe.
Israel maintains that Hamas and other groups operating within the Gaza Strip indiscriminately targeted civilian population centers with rocket fire and used Gaza’s populace as “human shields,” engaging the IDF from private homes, schools, hospitals, mosques and UN compounds, thereby drawing the scorn of the international community. Israel says half of those killed in Gaza were Hamas and other gunmen, and that Hamas is to blame for all civilian fatalities since Hamas emplaced rocket launchers, cross-border tunnel entrances and other elements of its war effort in residential areas.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is currently involved in a unity government with Hamas, a longtime rival of his Fatah faction, requested membership to the International Criminal Court against the wishes of Israel and the United States.
The US on Friday condemned as a “tragic irony” the International Criminal Court’s decision to open a preliminary probe into possible war crimes committed by Israeli forces against Palestinians.
“We strongly disagree with the ICC prosecutor’s action today,” US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement. “It is a tragic irony that Israel, which has withstood thousands of terrorist rockets fired at its civilians and its neighborhoods, is now being scrutinized by the ICC.”
Liberman charged it was a “scandalous decision whose only goal is to try and harm Israel’s right to defend itself against terror.” He said the decision was “solely motivated by political anti-Israel considerations,” and that Israel would not tolerate it, adding that he would recommend against cooperating with the probe.
“Israel will act in the international sphere to bring about the dismantling of this court which represents hypocrisy and gives impetus to terror,” Liberman said.
Netanyahu Friday also blasted the decision, accusing the ICC of being “part of the problem.”
“It’s scandalous that mere days after terrorists massacred Jews in France, the ICC prosecutor opens a probe against the Jewish state. And this is because we defend our citizens from Hamas, a terror group that signed a unity pact with the Palestinian Authority and war criminals who fired thousands of rockets at Israeli citizens,” charged the prime minister. “Unfortunately, this makes the court part of the problem and not part of the solution,” he continued.
The Palestinian Authority’s decision to press forward its suit in the ICC has cost it greatly, as Jerusalem has suspended transferring over $120 million in tax revenue to Ramallah, and representatives within the US government have called on President Barack Obama to halt the $400 million of aid Washington supplies the PA annually.
Abbas’s decision to go to the ICC comes after failing to gain a majority for a statehood bid at the United Nations that called for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem by the end of 2017.
The Palestinian Authority has indicated that it will likely file another bid with the Security Council after Knesset elections in March 2015.