Far-right candidate calls for 'treason' probe

Meretz head sparks uproar by saying ICC probe against Israel legitimate

Nitzan Horowitz says that while he’s saddened by war crimes investigation, Jerusalem shouldn’t be surprised after it kept building in settlements ‘like there was no tomorrow’

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz attends  a party conference in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz attends a party conference in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The chairman of the left-wing Meretz party said Saturday that while he was pained by the International Criminal Court’s opening of a war crimes probe against Israel, “there were grounds for the decision,” sparking immediate uproar from other lawmakers, mostly on the right.

“People tell us, ‘You want Israel to be brought before the Hague.’ I don’t want Israel to be brought before the Hague… But Israel also has responsibility,” Nitzan Horowitz said in a Channel 13 interview.

“I say this with great sadness, there were grounds for the decision. I don’t want Israel to face these situations… but Israel needs to ask itself what it needs to do to prevent that,” he added, urging the government to cooperate with the Hague-based international court — something it has not done thus far.

Bensouda announced on Wednesday that she was opening an investigation into actions committed by Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem since 2014.

Bensouda indicated in 2019 that a criminal investigation would likely focus on the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, Israeli settlement policy, and the 2018 Great March of Return protests, a series of violent demonstrations along Gaza’s border with Israel that left dozens of Palestinians dead.

Horowitz argued that Israel had brought the decision upon itself by refusing to enter negotiations with the Palestinians and “continuing to build in the settlements as if there is no tomorrow.”

Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), briefs the Security Council on the situation in Libya, May 8, 2019 (UN Photo/Loey Felip)

Pressed if he also thought the IDF had acted inappropriately in Gaza, the Meretz chairman said: “Even in Operation Protective Edge (the 2014 war), there were things that should not have been done. There was massive damage done to the civilian population that the court wants to check.

“The solution for us is not to say that The Hague is anti-Semitic, but rather to advance negotiations with the Palestinians that bring about a solution. Then there will be no reason for The Hague,” he added.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud reacted to the remarks by saying Horowitz “is abandoning IDF soldiers who guard him and all of us” and added that the premier will fight the “anti-Semitic” decision.

Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party called the remark “miserable” and urged Horowitz to apologize for “supporting an anti-Semitic decision.”

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked said her party won’t sit with Meretz in the same coalition, claiming Horowitz had justified the ICC’s “political and anti-Semitic activity persecuting IDF soldiers” and calling him an “embarrassment for the Knesset.”

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, speaking to Channel 13, also criticized Horowitz for his “unacceptable” remark.

Itamar Ben Gvir, an extreme-right candidate who leads the Otzma Yehudit faction under the Religious Zionism party slate, said he had urged Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to open an investigation against Horowitz on suspicion of “treason.”

A demonstrator poses with a Palestinian flag outside the International Criminal Court, ICC, during a rally urging the court to prosecute Israel’s military for war crimes; in The Hague, Netherlands, November 29, 2019. (AP/Peter Dejong)

The International Criminal Court will send Jerusalem a letter next week formally detailing the scope of its war crimes investigation against Israel and the Palestinians, Channel 13 reported Friday.

Israel will then have 30 days to respond, the report said, adding that Jerusalem is leaning toward doing so after largely refusing to cooperate with The Hague-based international court until now. However, Israel is expected to use its response as an opportunity to once again voice the argument that the ICC has no jurisdiction to hear the case.

The hope in Israel is that its argument over jurisdiction will succeed in delaying the case until outgoing ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is replaced in June by British lawmaker Karim Khan, whom Jerusalem hopes may be friendlier or may even cancel the probe.

A number of officials told Channel 13 that they’re concerned the ICC may already start issuing arrest warrants against former IDF officers in the coming months.

Consequently, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have begun reaching out to counterparts throughout Europe to galvanize support against the case, the Kan public broadcaster reported. Netanyahu and Gantz have been stressing in those calls that the investigation is biased against Israel, which they say has an independent legal system capable of prosecuting any alleged crimes.

However, it is unclear to what degree Israel’s argument would stick, particularly with regard to settlement policy, as in recent years Israeli courts have been used to regulate settlements and legalize wildcat outposts in the West Bank, which most of the international community deems illegal.

Meanwhile, Israel has sent warnings to the Palestinian Authority, which had submitted the requests to the ICC in 2014 that led to these probes, telling Ramallah that the war crimes investigation will make it difficult for Jerusalem to advance confidence-building measures for the Palestinians, Kan reported Thursday. PA officials responded, saying that just as Israel has engaged in peace talks while building in the settlements, the Palestinians can continue their contacts with Israel while the ICC probe moves forward.

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