White House comes out against GOP bill to sanction ICC over Israel arrest warrants

After pledging to work with Congress on the matter, Kirby says sanctioning The Hague not ‘the answer,’ reiterates opposition to court’s targeting of Netanyahu and Gallant

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

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)
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)

The White House on Tuesday came out against legislation being pushed by House Republicans to sanction senior members of the International Criminal Court over its pursuit of arrest warrants against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

“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.

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.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration would work with Congress “on a bipartisan basis to find an appropriate response” to the ICC effort against Israel.

Earlier this month, congressional Republicans began advancing legislation that would sanction ICC officials involved in the targeting of Israel. While it’s 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 decision to remove the sanctions that his predecessor Donald Trump imposed on the court’s prosecutor.

Judges arrive at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule on South Africa’s request on a Rafah and wider Gaza war ceasefire, in The Hague, on May 24, 2024 (Nick Gammon / AFP)

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.

Kirby also came out against calls to sanction Israel that are now being considered by some European leaders following a ruling in the International Court of Justice — which prosecutes countries, as opposed to the ICC, which prosecutes individuals — calling on Israel to halt military operations in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah that would risk the destruction of the civilian population sheltering there.

“We have no plans for these kinds of actions… based on the ICJ ruling,’ he said, saying the US doesn’t agree with the decision nor does it believe that the court has jurisdiction in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

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