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Pompeo warns ICC of ‘consequences’ for potential war crimes probe of Israel

US secretary stresses, ‘We do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state,’ issues warning if court continues ‘illegitimate’ investigations

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks about the coronavirus during news conference at the State Department in Washington, May 6, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks about the coronavirus during news conference at the State Department in Washington, May 6, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via AP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday warned the International Criminal Court against asserting jurisdiction over Israel, saying the United States will “exact consequences” for any “illegitimate” investigations.

The ICC’s prosecutor’s recent decision to accept “Palestine” as a state with the status to file a complaint could lead to a potential investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“The International Criminal Court is a political body, not a judicial institution. This unfortunate reality has been confirmed yet again by the ICC Prosecutor’s attempt to assert jurisdiction over Israel, which like the United States, is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the Court,” read Pompeo’s statement.

“As we made clear when the Palestinians purported to join the Rome Statute, we do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state, and they therefore are not qualified to obtain full membership, or participate as a state in international organizations, entities, or conferences, including the ICC,” said Pompeo, who was in Israel for a whirlwind visit on Wednesday.

“The United States reiterates its longstanding objection to any illegitimate ICC investigations. If the ICC continues down its current course, we will exact consequences,” Pompeo concluded.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem residence, May 13, 2020 (Kobi Gideon/PMO)

This week, letters signed by senators and US House representatives from both parties urged Pompeo to protect Israelis from International Criminal Court prosecution, and an Israeli delegation traveled to the United States earlier this year for talks on coordinating a joint US-Israeli campaign against the ICC, Israeli television reported.

An Israeli official told Channel 13 news the trip was timed to coincide with the ICC’s approval of a war crimes probe in Afghanistan, as American anger over the decision would underline that both the US and Israel have a common interest in opposing the court.

The ICC probe in Afghanistan will include investigations of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by Afghan government forces, the Taliban, American troops and US foreign intelligence operatives.

Chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda at the opening of the court’s judicial year with a Special Session at the seat of the court in The Hague, January 23, 2020. (courtesy ICC)

Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, announced in December she had concluded her half-decade long preliminary examination of the “situation in Palestine” and has “reasonable basis to believe that war crimes were committed” by the Israel Defense Forces, Hamas and other “Palestinian armed groups.”

At the same time, she acknowledged that The Hague may not have the jurisdiction to deal with Israel/Palestine. Hence, she asked for a ruling by three ICC judges to determine the scope of the court’s territorial jurisdiction.

The prosecutor herself believes “Palestine,” which acceded to the Rome Statute, the court’s foundational document, in early 2015, is enough of a state for the purposes of transferring criminal jurisdiction over its territory to the court.

Israel has long argued that the ICC lacks jurisdiction over the case because there is no sovereign Palestinian state that could delegate to the court criminal jurisdiction over its territory and nationals.

It is now up to a so-called pre-trial chamber to rule on the matter. The three judges of this chamber have no set deadline to hand down their decision but are expected to do so in the coming weeks.

Raphael Ahren and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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