Backing Israel, Hungary says it opposes potential ICC probe of Jewish state

Foreign minister says Israel’s argument against court’s jurisdiction is ‘justified,’ promises ‘continued friendship and cooperation’

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto in his office in Budapest, Hungary, June 14, 2019. (Attila Kovacs/MTI via AP)
Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto in his office in Budapest, Hungary, June 14, 2019. (Attila Kovacs/MTI via AP)

Hungary has expressed its backing of Israel against the International Criminal Court’s decision to launch a probe into alleged Israeli war crimes, the Foreign Ministry said Saturday, assuring Jerusalem of its “continued political support.”

The ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced last month that at the end of her five-year preliminary examination, she had reached the conclusion that “there is a reasonable basis to initiate an investigation into the situation in Palestine.”

There are indications that both the Israeli army and Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups may have committed war crimes, she stated.

Israel has lashed out at the decision and questioned the court’s jurisdiction over the matter. In the wake of Bensouda’s announcement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent letters to several leaders of countries considered friendly to Israel, seeking support for the Israeli position.

“We believe your position with regard to the lack of jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the given case is justified,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in a response letter to his Israeli counterpart, Israel Katz.

“The Hungarian government has always appreciated the principle and value of national sovereignty,” he said, adding that “we have had several legal and political disagreements over competences with European institutions or within the framework of the UN.”

Szijjarto said Budapest has “consistently been fighting against campaigns aimed at creating a negative image of the State of Israel in different international organizations such as the UN or the EU.”

Israel Katz attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

He promised “continued political support to Israel on matters of mutual interest” and guaranteed “our continued friendship and cooperation on matters important to your country.”

Katz welcomed the statement, saying it “comports with justice and law as well as the excellent relations between the countries.”

Last month Australia said it rejected the ICC probe, arguing that the matter must be resolved by Israelis and Palestinians at the negotiating table.

Germany’s foreign ministry, in a more nuanced stance, said it had full trust in the court and was confident the ICC’s judges would “address issues of admissibility” but cautioned against politicization.

Germany is generally known as a staunch supporter of the court, leading to surprise in Jerusalem that it warned of possible politicization.

Bensouda, in her statement, acknowledged that the ICC may not have jurisdiction over the case, and asked the court’s pre-trial chamber to rule on the matter within 120 days.

International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda addresses the 18th session of the ICC Assembly of States Parties in The Hague, December 2, 2019 (courtesy International Criminal Court)

Israel vociferously rejects her statement, arguing that the court clearly does not have jurisdiction over the case, as there is no Palestinian state that has the mandate to transfer criminal jurisdiction over its territory to The Hague.

Netanyahu went as far as calling Bensouda’s statement “pure anti-Semitism” due to her comments on investigating Jewish settlement construction, and vowed to fight for Israel’s good name.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday issued a statement saying the administration remains “firmly” opposed to the ICC’s supposed investigation into the matter, slamming it as an unfair attack on Israel.

“As we made clear when the Palestinians purported to join the Rome Statute, we do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state, and they therefore are not qualified to obtain full membership, or participate as a state in international organizations, entities, or conferences, including the ICC,” Pompeo said.

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