AG implores Netanyahu to cease blocking state commission of inquiry into Gaza war

Baharav-Miara says immediately forming such panel will help fend off cases against Israel at ICJ, ICC; she rejects alternative frameworks pushed by PM, saying they ‘miss the mark’

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara addresses the Israel Bar Association's annual conference in Eilat, May 27, 2024. (Courtesy: Israel Bar Association)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara addresses the Israel Bar Association's annual conference in Eilat, May 27, 2024. (Courtesy: Israel Bar Association)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has implored Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cease blocking the launch of a state commission of inquiry into the government’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, explaining that the probe is essential in fending off the actions being taken against Jerusalem at international tribunals.

Netanyahu to date has bucked the establishment of such a panel, arguing that it would harm the war effort and should only commence after the fighting ends.

But in a letter sent to Netanyahu earlier this week — which was first published by the Walla news site on Thursday — Baharav-Miara argues that a state commission of inquiry is the best defense against the genocide accusations Israel is facing at the International Court of Justice, along with the arrest warrants sought by the top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

“Given the urgency of dealing with the threats on the international stage, our professional opinion is that there should be no delay in establishing a state commission of inquiry investigating the events of the war,” Baharav-Miara wrote in the letter.

Netanyahu has faced increasing pressure to launch a state commission, as his critics have accused him of trying to evade responsibility for Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught, which took place under his watch. War cabinet minister Benny Gantz joined those calls last month.

With the mounting pressure, Netanyahu has reportedly begun looking into Knesset legislation to establish an independent panel headed by a figure of his choosing. State commissions of inquiry are typically headed by a retired Supreme Court Justice, and Esther Hayut is the most obvious choice, given that she just recently finished her tenure as president of the top court. But Netanyahu is reportedly vehemently opposed to her appointment, given her outspoken criticism of his government’s effort to radically overhaul the judiciary last year. Accordingly, legislation to circumvent Hayut has reportedly become Netanyahu’s preferred maneuver.

Baharav-Miara warned against this strategy, writing to Netanyahu that “any other existing mechanism [to probe October 7 failures] would not fit the needs and the unique risks that the country is currently facing.”

“A situation in which the executive is the one that establishes [the commission] that is supposed to probe its conduct would miss the mark,” the attorney general asserted.

An exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, December 6, 2022. (AP/Peter Dejong)

Last month, the ICC’s chief prosecutor Kamir Khan announced that following his investigation, he was seeking arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh, Yahya Sinwar and Muhammad Deif, as well as Netanyahu and Gallant. The warrants for the latter two, he said, were being sought on charges of starvation as a method of warfare, willfully causing great suffering or cruel treatment, willfully killing, intentional attacks against civilians, extermination and persecution.

Israel has blasted the decision, noting that the ICC is supposed to be a court of last resort to try leaders of countries without independent judiciaries. Moreover, it noted that it had been cooperating with Khan’s office before the prosecutor canceled his planned trip to Israel only to rush his announcement against Netanyahu and Gallant in a press conference.

South Africa filed its case with the ICJ late last year, alleging that Israel was breaching the genocide convention in its military assault against the Hamas terror group in Gaza. Several countries have joined South Africa in its effort.

Israel has rejected the accusations of genocide as baseless and says South Africa is acting as an emissary of the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza and seeks to eliminate the Jewish state. It says that the Israel Defense Forces is targeting Hamas terrorists, not Palestinian civilians, but points out that civilian casualties in the fighting are unavoidable as terrorists operate from deep within the population.

The ICJ last month ordered Israel to halt military operations in the southern Gazan city of Rafah that would risk the destruction of the civilian population sheltering there. IDF troops are currently running targeted operations against terror operatives and infrastructure in the area, while around one million of an estimated 1.4 million Palestinians sheltering in the area have already been evacuated.

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