Netanyahu ‘surprised, disappointed’ by US refusal to sanction ICC over warrants

PM accuses Biden administration of backing away from plan to penalize court, says message must be sent that ‘free societies will retain right and ability to defend themselves’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, May 29, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, May 29, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday criticized the Biden administration’s recent announcement that it won’t support sanctions against the International Criminal Court, after its top prosecutor asked the tribunal to issue arrest warrants against the premier and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

“The United States said that they would, in fact, back the sanctions bill. I thought that was still the American position because there was bipartisan consensus just a few days ago,” Netanyahu says in a yet-to-be-aired interview with Sirius XM’s “The Morgan Ortagus Show” that was leaked to Politico.

Last week, the US blasted ICC prosecutor Karim Khan’s decision and said it would work with Congress to advance a “bipartisan response” but stopped short of backing sanctions against The Hague-based court.

“Now you say there’s a question mark and frankly I’m surprised and disappointed,” Netanyahu said.

He repeated the remarks during his meeting Wednesday with former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, lamenting Washington’s decision to “back off” support for sanctioning the ICC.

“I hope that doesn’t happen because it’s important to send a message to the ICC that free societies will retain the right and the ability to defend themselves,” he said.

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)

Last week, the US came out against ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan’s request for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant along with Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh, Yahya Sinwar and Muhammad Deif. Washington blasted the equivalency the court drew between the Israeli and Hamas leaders, said the ICC had no authority to weigh in on the matter since Israel is not a member, has its own credible legal systems to adjudicate such charges and was in the process of cooperating with Khan when he cut off contact and rushed to announce his decision.

On Tuesday, the White House came out against legislation being pushed by House Republicans to sanction senior members of the ICC.

“We don’t believe the ICC has jurisdiction [in this case], so we don’t support these arrest warrants. However, we don’t believe that sanctioning the ICC is the answer,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said during a press briefing.

While the Republican effort is likely to pass in the House, the legislation is expected to face a more difficult path in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Congressional Democrats, including in the Senate, have spoken in favor of a legislative response to the ICC. Sanctions, however, appear a step too far for them, with the White House opposing any reversal of US President Joe Biden’s decision to remove the sanctions that his predecessor Donald Trump imposed on the court’s prosecutor.

With the administration opposed to the GOP’s sanctions bill, another possibility would be for Congress to pass legislation threatening sanctions against countries that abide by any arrest warrants that the court issues in the case against Israel. Biden could do this unilaterally through executive order, though the administration has not said if it’s currently mulling such a route. Legislation would be more binding and potentially help blunt criticism on Capitol Hill.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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