Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to annex the West Bank’s Jordan Valley have reportedly entered a “deep freeze” following the International Criminal Court’s decision to move forward with a potential war crimes.
The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Tuesday that a first inter-ministerial meeting to discuss extending Israeli sovereignty over the territory was canceled last week, hours before it was scheduled to start, after it became clear that an ICC announcement of a probe was forthcoming.
The ICC’s top prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced on Friday that there was a “basis” for proceeding with an investigation into crimes allegedly committed in the Palestinian territories, including Israel’s settlement policy, the 2014 Gaza war, and the Israeli response to violent protests on the Gaza Strip border.
The ICC also said it would look at the targeting of civilians by Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups.
In her announcement, Bensouda mentioned Netanyahu’s stated plans to annex parts of the West Bank. Tuesday’s report said that government officials fear moving forward with the plans will escalate the confrontation with the ICC.
“Because of the decision of the prosecutor in The Hague, the issue of annexing the Jordan Valley will enter a deep freeze,” an unnamed source told Yedioth.
The inter-ministerial committee, chaired by Acting Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office Ronen Peretz, had been tasked with pushing ahead with the annexation move, including formulating a government decision on the matter and Knesset legislation.
Earlier this month the ICC’s Report on Preliminary Examination Activities made headlines in Israel for stating that Bensouda “followed with concern proposals advanced during the recent electoral process, to be tabled to the Knesset, for Israel to annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.”
Netanyahu has repeatedly promised to quickly apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley — a quarter of the West Bank — if he is able to put together a new government amid an ongoing political gridlock. His Likud party has even claimed that the premier is only interested in staying in office for an additional six months — a unity coalition negotiation demand — in order to see that promise through.
Two rounds of elections within five months this year failed to produce an elected government and Israel goes to the polls for a third time on March 2.
On Monday Netanyahu accused the ICC of “pure anti-Semitism for its probe decision.
“The claims of the ICC prosecutor that Jews have no right to live in the homeland of the Jewish people is pure anti-Semitism,” he said in a statement.
The prime minister made similar remarks on Sunday, when he vowed, “We will not bow our heads.”
Prosecutor Bensouda has referred the matter of the probe to the Hague-based tribunal to rule on the specific territory over which it has jurisdiction, as Israel is not a member of the court.
On Sunday Israel’s cabinet approved a request by Netanyahu to classify its deliberations about the ICC’s move and agreed that further discussions on the matter would be held in the high-level security cabinet, Hebrew media said.
Two unnamed ministers told Channel 12 news that publication of Israeli efforts to thwart the ICC’s launching of an investigation could damage the national interests.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday condemned the court’s announcement, saying it “unfairly targets” Israel, but did not say whether the US would act against the ICC over the move.
The Trump administration has previously threatened the court with sanctions and visa denial if it investigates Americans or Israelis. In April, it revoked ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s visa over a possible investigation of American troops’ actions in Afghanistan.