Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu panned the decision by International Criminal Court’s prosecutor on Friday to open an initial probe into alleged war crimes committed against Palestinians, including during last summer’s conflict with Hamas, with Liberman calling to dismantle the court.
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 continued in a statement released to the press.
Netanyahu 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.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki welcomed the move.
“Everything is going according to plan, no state and nobody can now stop this action we requested,” he told AFP. “In the end, a full investigation will follow the preliminary one.”
A senior Palestinian source told Ynet the Palestinians were satisfied with the decision, calling it “a positive step in attaining justice and protection for the Palestinian people.”
“We hope that Israel will now understand that international law must be respected,” the source said.
Earlier Friday, the ICC prosecutor said an initial probe was being launched.
“Today the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court 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 will 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, which controls Gaza, including the firing of thousands of rockets at Israeli residential areas from crowded neighborhoods.
The prosecutor’s announcement came after the Palestinian Authority 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.
Israel has said it is Hamas that should be prosecuted at the ICC for its indiscriminate rocket fire at Israel.
“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 launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 to stop Hamas and other groups’ indiscriminate rocket fire on Israeli cities and to destroy the terror tunnels that infiltrate into Israeli territory.
During the operation, Hamas rejected a number of ceasefire proposals and violated a number of those that were agreed to.
Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians, and a Thai agricultural worker, in the month-long conflict. while the Palestinian death toll surpassed 2,100, according to Hamas officials in Gaza. Israel said half of the Gaza dead were gunmen and blamed Hamas for all civilian deaths because it operated against Israel from residential areas, placing Gazans in harm’s way.
The Palestinians have accused Jerusalem of intentionally targeting civilian centers. However the Israeli government strongly denies this, claiming terrorists used schools, hospitals and United Nations buildings to launch rockets at civilians in Israeli territory.
The IDF is currently investigating a number of incidents regarding the army’s conduct during the 50-day conflict.
The Palestinian Authority pushed through with the war crime charges after a failed attempt to secure a UN bid urging a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem by the end of 2017.
The move is also seen as part of a shift in strategy to internationalize its campaign for statehood and move away from the stalled US-led peace process.
Both Israel and the US have condemned the plan, with Washington calling it “counterproductive”.