1. What hath Bensouda wrought? The decision of the International Criminal Court to move forward with a potential investigation into crimes allegedly committed in the Palestinian territories by Israel has the country wracked with concern over what it could mean.
- “It opens the door for any Palestinian to serve a claim in the Hague against Israel for war crimes. From a prosecution point of view, the relevant period is from 2014, and in the sights are those who served in senior positions from those years,” the Ynet news site reports, singling out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former defense minister Avigdor Liberman and former IDF chief Benny Gantz as those possibly in the most trouble.
- Channel 12 reports that the ICC’s Fatou Bensouda can go well beyond that, and target everyone from top army officials to lowly foot soldiers.
- Michael Lynk, the UN’s special rapporteur for Palestinian rights, says that it could include “settlers involved in obtaining funds to build illegal dwellings,” according to Gulf-based Arab News.
- The channel also claims that Israel has already decided not to cooperate with the probe, though Channel 13 reports that the decision has not yet been made. In the meantime, judges still have to approve the prosecutor’s decision.
- “The judge’s decision to approve the decision will be an earthquake, and will place Israel in front of an unprecedented diplomatic-legal tsunami,” the channel’s Barak Ravid writes.
2. How dare they? Alongside the worry, and seemingly overtaking it, is a healthy dose of anger and exasperation over the fact that Israel is being treated this way.
- “In the prosecutor’s description, there are no Israeli victims, no terror, just the Palestinian narrative which tries to foist responsibility on Israel,” deputy attorney general for international law Roee Scheindorf tells Army Radio.
- “Anti-Semitism, Hague style,” cries the front page headline in Israel Hayom.
- The paper’s Eldad Beck fumes at how anyone can think settlement activity or Israeli attempts to stop Gazan infiltrations can be considered “war crimes:” “This isn’t a legal process to bring Israeli war criminals, whoever they may be, to justice, but a use of the international law system for a diplomatic process to liquidate the State of Israel. According to the international definition of anti-Semitism, this is pure anti-Semitism, since it is talking about denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and putting a double standard on Israel.”
- Yedioth is no more subtle, running the headline “And they call us war criminals,” under pictures of atrocities in Iran, Syria, Turkey, Gaza and elsewhere.
- The paper accuses the ICC of being “absurd,” and calls it “hypocritical.”
3. Could Israel be in the wrong? Haaretz’s Noa Landau writes that the preemptive knee-jerk reaction by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the Foreign Ministry misses the point, and reveals Israel to be the one that is hypocritical.
- Israel claims that “the Palestinians can’t simultaneously claim to be occupied by Israel and at the same time be a partner in a treaty of sovereign states. Yet doesn’t Israel pull the same trick by demanding that Palestinians take responsibility without allowing them full control? Has Israel itself decided whether Palestine is an occupied territory or a state? Or is it that by claiming Palestine is not a sovereign, Israel is admitting that it is, in fact, occupied,” she asks.
- The paper’s lead editorial also laments the investigation, but not because it is wrong, rather because it is needed: “The prosecutor’s decision is the final warning alarm for the Israeli government and its institutions that are interested in denying the reality of the occupation. In the next few months the court will decide whether to open an investigation. Alongside the fear of the possible results of the investigation, it is regrettable that Israel is not capable of recognizing the tragedy that it has brought upon itself through blindness and arrogance – the occupation and the settlements – and it is regrettable that only an external threat might open its eyes.”
- The New York Times notes that the arguments put forth are just a rehash of the same arguments Israel made five years ago when the Palestinians joined the court.
4. Jurisdiction prudence: In Yedioth, Ben Dror Yemini counsels against getting too worked up yet in any case.
- “There’s no need to turn Bensouda into an enemy of the state,” he writes. “Bensouda passed the decision on jurisdiction to the judges, who are from Hungary, France and Benin. This is not the forum of hate like the UN Human Rights Council and Israel has excellent claims, since only a state can make a claim and Palestine is not a state.”
- That’s not a small point. On Twitter, ICC scholar Patryk I Labuda writes an in-depth thread over why it’s important that Bensouda made that decision.
5/ From a pragmatic, institutional perspective, the reality is that it is easier for judges to make a finding of 'no jurisdiction' at this stage. In doing so, the ICC avoids a lot of (political) problems. Just think about US criticisms of #ICC – Bolton made it clear it is…
— Patryk I Labuda (@pilabuda) December 20, 2019
- In another Twitter thread, Kevin John Heller, another scholar, does an even deeper dive into Bensouda’s claims but ends with him being sure that jurisdiction will be granted.
23 In sum: another superb brief by the OTP, one that is exceptionally learned and persuasively argued. Palestine will be unhappy about the crimes; Israel will be unhappy with basically everything else. Unsure the OTP should have filed the request, but very confident it will win.
— Kevin Jon Heller (@kevinjonheller) December 20, 2019
5. Shotgun wedding: The decision by Jewish Home to merge with Otzma Yehudit is proving itself to be somewhere between the ICC decision and “Cats” on the popularity scale.
- Channel 12 news reports that Netanyahu called Jewish Home head Rafi Peretz to congratulate him. However a spokesman for Netanyahu, who pretty openly pushed for a similar merger in the last two elections, denies it out of hand, indicating that even he sees it as politically toxic.
- “There was no conversation. Netanyahu is not getting involved,” the spokesman is quoted saying.
- Yet a column in pro-Netanyahu tabloid Israel Hayom by Mati Tuchfeld praises the merger as a “necessary step” for right-wing victory.
- ToI’s Jacob Magid writes that the decision is even drawing flak from people within the party, including MK Moti Yogev and some 80 local branch heads who wrote a letter to Peretz against the move Saturday.
- “In their letter to Peretz, party officials lamented his failure to converse with Jewish Home members to achieve ‘better and more natural’ mergers. They warned the union with Otzma Yehudit would prevent other alliances,” he writes.
- Walla reports that Peretz made the deal “under the shadow of tensions with National Union head Bezalel Smotrich after the latter tried to push forward open primaries for a large religious [Zionist] slate against the wishes of Peretz. The Jewish Home head saw this is an attempt to push him out of his position and thus acted to broker a deal with Otzma Yehudit.”
6. Right flight: Some are also against the merger because of Otzma’s racism, not just electoral math and seat jockeying.
- “It’s clear that most people who identify as religious Zionist do not [identify with Otzma]. The national religious movement is made up of people who believe in the state, in the nation, but certainly not vandals, nationalists and racists,” Hen Srour-Arzi writes in Yedioth.
- In hard-right Israel National News, columnist Akiva Shpigelman predicts that voters will make a mass exodus from right-wing parties whose leaders are out of touch: “You should join the new generation of religious Zionism, which is fitted for the Israel of the future. The [political] home needs to be rebuilt with people who understand where we are headed. A direction that is definitely not toward unions that adopt the ideology of Kahane and his ilk,” he writes, addressing the politicians.
- Makor Rishon reporter Yoav Kraus predicts that Smotrich will end up joining with Naftali Bennett and New Right, and the Jewish Home and Otzma “will be erased.”