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Unmoved by outrage, Meretz leader says the right is responsible for ICC probe

Nitzan Horowitz says it is in Israel’s interest ‘to end the occupation, and anyone who thinks settlement policy can continue without a price is mistaken’

Head of the left wing Meretz party Nitzan Horowitz attends a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the left wing Meretz party Nitzan Horowitz attends a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The leader of the left-wing Meretz party on Sunday said that it was right-wing policy on West Bank settlement that has brought about the International Criminal Court’s opening of a war crimes probe against Israel, doubling down on remarks he made the day before in which he gave legitimacy to the probe.

“Those who are dragging Israel to court in the Hague are [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, the right, and the settlers,” Nitzan Horowitz said at a Channel 12 conference hosting influential Israeli figures in Jerusalem.

The Meretz leader’s comments on Saturday that “there were grounds” for the ICC probe drew harsh criticism from political rivals.

“This is a failure of Israeli leadership and policy that is preserving the occupation in the territories for years now,” Horowitz said at the conference. “The leaders of the right should think about what they did that brought us to this situation.”

Defending his remarks as authentic views in contrast to what he called the populist statements of other parties in the run-up to elections later this month, Horowitz said, “I think it is very much in Israel’s interest to end the occupation, and anyone who thinks this policy [of maintaining the settlements] can continue without a price is mistaken.”

Interviewed at the same conference, Gideon Sa’ar, leader of the right-wing New Hope party who is challenging Netanyahu to become prime minister, said that he would not include Meretz in any coalition he leads.

“Horowitz can’t join the government with positions like that,” Sa’ar said. “A government that I lead will open an all-out war against the decision by the court in the Hague.”

Sa’ar said anyone who joins his government will need to fall into line with its positions.

“The position of the government will be clear, and whoever doesn’t accept it can’t be in it,” he said.

Sa’ar’s remarks comported with those of Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, who on Saturday said her national-religious party would not serve alongside Meretz in a government.

“Anyone who talks like that will not be with us in a coalition,” said Shaked, No.2 in the party led by Naftali Bennett.

Whereas Meretz has been hovering below the threshold for entry into the Knesset in recent polls, New Hope has been predicted to win around 12 seats and Yamina a similar 11. Any coalition formed after the March 23 vote is certain to need at least one of the parties to push it to a majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Both Sa’ar and Bennett have said they want to be prime minister.

While Netanyahu’s Likud leads in polls with close to 30 seats, the second-largest party is predicted to be opposition leader Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid, with around 20 seats.

Gideon Sa’ar, head of the New Hope political party speaks during a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90_

On Saturday Horowitz said in a Channel 13 interview, “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.

“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, which it has not done thus far.

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 were no tomorrow.”

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.”

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.

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

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)

International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou 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.

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 having largely refused 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, who Jerusalem hopes may be friendlier or may even cancel the probe.

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