Israel reacted furiously to the International Criminal Court’s decision Friday to launch an inquiry into possible war crimes, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slamming the decision as “absurd” and Jerusalem calling on leading Western powers to tell the ICC it should not hear the case.
The United States was the first country to make its opposition known, with the State Department issuing a statement saying that Washington “strongly” disagrees with the ICC prosecutor’s decision to open a preliminary investigation.
“As we have said repeatedly, we do not believe that ‘Palestine’ is a state and therefore we do not believe that it is eligible to join the ICC,” the statement said. “It is a tragic irony that Israel, which has withstood thousands of terrorist rockets fired at its civilians and its neighborhoods, is now being scrutinized by the ICC. The place to resolve the differences between the parties is through direct negotiations, not unilateral actions by either side. We will continue to oppose actions against Israel at the ICC as counterproductive to the cause of peace.”
Netanyahu spoke with US Secretary of State John Kerry about the matter on Friday.
ICC prosecutors said the preliminary examination would scrutinize “in full independence and impartiality” crimes that may have occurred since June 13 last year. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made the path toward the decision to launch the inquiry possible by formally requesting ICC membership earlier this month.
Both the PA and Hamas praised the move, with Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri characterizing it as a “step in the right direction,” and calling for all efforts to be made to bring Israeli leaders to trial.
Another Hamas official, Izzat al-Risheq, said his movement is prepared to provide the ICC with documents and reports about “Israeli war crimes” against the Gaza Strip.
Al-Risheq said the ICC decision is important, adding that Palestinians have waited for many years for this move.
The PA Foreign Ministry hailed the decision as a “positive and significant step toward achieving justice and respecting international law.”
The ministry said the Palestinian decision to join the ICC was aimed at “putting an end to Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Netanyahu slammed the decision on Saturday night in a statement he read out from his office in both Hebrew and English.
“Israel rejects the absurd decision of the ICC prosecutor,” he said. “It’s absurd for the ICC to ignore international law and agreements, under which the Palestinians don’t have a state and can only get one through direct negotiations with Israel.”
The rules of the ICC are clear, Netanyahu said: “No state, no standing, no case.”
This message – that the ICC should not take up the matter because the Palestinians do not have a state – was a key part of the argument in a letter he sent late last week to US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It will also be a major topic of discussion when he meets with a US Senate delegation, led by Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird on Monday.
The Senate has threatened to cut off US funds as a consequence of the Palestinians turning to the ICC, and two leading Republican and two leading Democratic senators signed a letter last week saying, “If the ICC makes the egregious mistake of accepting the Palestinian Authority as a member, given that it is not a state, Congress will seek ways to protect Israeli citizens from politically abusive ICC actions.”
Government officials said Jerusalem believes the decision to open a preliminary investigation is “dangerous” and could ultimately lead to indictments of senior IDF officers and political leaders.
The best thing from Israel’s perspective, the officials said, would be for the court to decide that it cannot hear the case because of “jurisdictional issues.”
If the case moves forward, the official warned, Israel has “many tools in our toolbox that we can use. The Palestinians are also vulnerable to legal attacks, both in the ICC and elsewhere.” He did not elaborate.
Netanyahu said the “ultimate folly” of the ICC decision “is that the democracy of Israel, a world leader in fighting terrorism, is to be hauled to the dock in The Hague, while the terrorist war criminals of Hamas are the ones who are going to be pressing the charges. I won’t be surprised if ISIS [Islamic State], al-Qaida, and Hezbollah follow suit. See, Hamas has already announced that they will join their Palestinian partner, President Abbas, in filing complaints against Israel as a result of this decision.”
According to Netanyahu, the absurdity is compounded because Israel “upholds the highest standards of international law,” and its actions are “subject to the constant and careful review of Israel’s world-renowned and utterly independent legal system.”
The decision is “even more preposterous,” he said, “given that Israel is legitimately defending itself against Palestinian terrorists who routinely commit multiple war crimes. They deliberately fire thousands of rockets at our civilians, while hiding behind Palestinian civilians whom they use as human shields.”
Netanyahu said it is “tragic” that the “lofty goals of the ICC are being turned upside-down.”
He said the court, “founded to prevent a repeat of history’s worst crimes, foremost among them the genocide of six million Jews,” was now being cynically manipulated by the Palestinians “to deny the Jewish state the right to defend itself against the very war crimes and the very terrorism that the court was established to prevent.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman labeled the move “scandalous” and said its entire aim is to harm Israel’s ability to defend itself against terrorism. Liberman said that he would recommend that Israel not cooperate with the investigation.
He further said Israel would work in the international arena to dismantle the ICC, which he said was a body that “represents hypocrisy, and gives support to terrorism.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the ICC would be better served if it “investigated Palestinian terrorism and incitement, or the systematic murder of hundreds of thousands of citizens in Arab countries, and not a democratic country that defends itself and has an independent judiciary.”
The ICC’s decision was also roundly condemned by the Hamahane Hatzioni, Yesh Atid, and Koolanu parties.