Lapid: Take the Saudi peace deal; then the ICC won't prosecute

Netanyahu: It’s the ICC prosecutor, not me, who should be concerned for his status

PM says Karim Khan turning tribunal into ‘kangaroo court’ and ‘pariah’; Israel urges ‘civilized nations’ to spurn arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant if they are issued

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) attend a vote in the Knesset, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) attend a vote in the Knesset, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in a Tuesday interview that International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan was turning the ICC into a “kangaroo court” by requesting arrest warrants for him and for Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, adding that it was Khan, not himself, who should be concerned about his international legitimacy going forward.

Speaking to ABC, Netanyahu dismissed the ICC’s accusation that Israel was deliberately denying Gazans food and water. “This is absurd, it is beyond outrageous,” Netanyahu said, calling the charges a “totally false accusation.”

“We are supplying now nearly half of the water of Gaza, we supplied only 7 percent before the war,” Netanyahu said. “We have supplied over half a million tons of food and medicine with 20,000 trucks.”

Netanyahu slammed Khan, accusing him of being “out to demonize Israel” and adding: “He’s doing a hit job. He’s creating a false symmetry between the democratically elected leaders of Israel and the terrorist chieftains” of Palestinian terror group Hamas, who are also the targets of potential ICC arrest warrants. “That’s like saying after 9/11, well, I’m issuing arrest warrants for George Bush, but also for [Osama] bin Laden.”

“He’s also pouring gasoline on the fires of antisemitism that are spreading around the world. He is attacking the one and only Jewish state and trying to handcuff us,” Netanyahu said, adding that accusations like these would deny democracies the ability to defend themselves from terrorists hiding among civilian populations, even when states adhere to the laws of war.

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan (center) announces that he has requested arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Hanuyeh, May 20, 2024. (Courtesy International Criminal Court)

Netanyahu accused Khan of undermining the global status of the ICC, saying that “he is creating false symmetry and false facts and doing a grave injustice to the international court.”

Asked if he was concerned about traveling internationally after the recommendations, Netanyahu said he was not.

“I’m not concerned at all about our status. I think the prosecutor should be concerned about his status because he is really turning the ICC into a pariah institution. People are just not going to take it seriously,” Netanyahu said.

“They see it as a politicized thing. I hope the judges don’t confirm what he says, because they will make them into a kangaroo court.”

Earlier Tuesday, Gallant called Khan’s announcement a “disgraceful” bid to interfere in Israel’s more than seven-month-old war against Hamas in Gaza.

In a post on X, Gallant said that “the attempt by Prosecutor Karim Khan to deny the State of Israel the right to self-defense and to free its hostages must be rejected out of hand.”

Volunteers prepare food for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2024. (AFP)

Asked on Tuesday if Netanyahu or Gallant would avoid traveling to ICC-signatory countries if arrest warrants were issued, government spokesperson Tal Heinrich said: “Let’s wait and see.”

Heinrich also urged “nations of the civilized world” to oppose Khan’s arrest warrants request and to declare they would ignore the warrants if issued.

“We call on the nations of the civilized, free world — nations who despise terrorists and anyone who supports them — to stand by Israel. You should outright condemn this step,” he said.

“Make sure the ICC understands where you stand,” he urged. “Oppose the prosecutor’s decision and declare that, even if warrants are issued, you do not intend to enforce them. Because this is not about our leaders. It’s about our survival.”

Israel’s anger was echoed in Washington, which condemned the impression of equivalence given by the fact that the prosecutor, Karim Khan, simultaneously sought warrants against leaders of Israel and Hamas. US President Joe Biden on Monday condemned the ICC move as “outrageous.”

Khan said on Monday that Israel did have the right to defend its population but added: “That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any state of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law.”

US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew addresses hostage families rally in Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on May 18, 2024. (Hostages and Missing Families Forum/Paulina Patimer)

He said that whatever Israel’s military goals in Gaza, the prosecution believed its methods — “namely, intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to body or health of the civilian population” — were criminal.

US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew said Tuesday there was no comparing “actions taken by a democratic government here with the behavior of a terrorist organization that is fighting in a way that has created these conditions.”

“I don’t think that a day has gone by that I haven’t worked with either the prime minister or the defense minister or somebody in their immediate circle on how you get humanitarian assistance to starving people,” he added, speaking at a conference.

Meanwhile, Opposition leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to pursue normalization with Saudi Arabia as proposed by Washington by agreeing to a pathway to a future Palestinian state, arguing that doing so would undercut the ICC’s efforts to prosecute him.

“Netanyahu should announce that he has entered into negotiations with the Saudis, including the Palestinian component,” Lapid told Army Radio on Tuesday.

“In The Hague, they will not prosecute a prime minister who is in the middle of a historic peace process. This will solve the Hague [problem] for us and the [issue of] the day-after in Gaza‚ and it will help us mobilize the Saudis to apply pressure regarding the issue of the hostages,” he claimed.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid leads a meeting of his Yesh Atid party at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 20, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told Netanyahu on Sunday there is an opportunity currently available for Israel to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia if Jerusalem agrees to a pathway to a future Palestinian state. Netanyahu has said he would not accept a Palestinian state, even one that came with a Saudi normalization deal.

The Israel-Hamas war began on October 7, 2023, with the terrorist organization’s attack on Israel in which some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were murdered and 252 were taken hostage.

A couple of weeks later, Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza with the proclaimed objectives of obliterating Hamas and getting the hostages back.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 35,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals. The toll, which cannot be verified and does not differentiate between terrorists and civilians, includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle.

Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

It is believed that 124 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that.

Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 16 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 37 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

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