The Friends of Israel Initiative sent a letter to the new chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court on February 19. Karim Khan, a British lawyer, has a long history of experience in cases relating to war crimes and genocide, most recently shedding light on the genocide of Yazidis in Iraq. In early February, the ICC determined that it had jurisdiction over the Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Karim Khan was elected on February 12.
The Friends of Israel Initiative letter congratulates Khan on his election. “We are the board members of the Friends of Israel Initiative, an independent body of former heads of government, cabinet ministers and others. We came together out of concern for the unprecedented campaign of delegitimization against Israel waged by the enemies of the Jewish state and supported by numerous international institutions,” the letter noted.It was signed by former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper; former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar; former Australian prime minister John Howard; a former president of Uruguay; and former first minister of Northern Ireland Lord Trimble, among others.
“We are writing to urge you to re-evaluate the decision taken by your predecessor, Ms. Fatou Bensouda, to investigate Israel over ‘alleged crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, since 13 June 2014.’ As you are aware, the ICC's Pre-Trial Chamber recently adjudged that the court has jurisdiction over these allegations,” the letter said.The Friends of Israel Initiative noted that it has opposed this investigation for years and says that the substance of the allegations against Israel are “spurious.” Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute and has not consented to the Court's jurisdiction, the signatories pointed out.“The request for an investigation was made by an entity which is not a sovereign state within the terms of the Rome Statute, under which only sovereign states may delegate jurisdiction to the court over their territory. This view is strongly supported by the government of the United States of America, as well as the governments of Rome Statute state-parties Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Australia, Canada, Uganda and Brazil, as well as by leading international law scholars.”
The signatories go on to note that the Palestinian Authority cannot delegate authority to the ICC under the terms of the Oslo Accords. “As you know, the ICC is mandated to investigate and try the gravest crimes of concern to the international community, as a court of last resort, when national jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to do so. This does not apply to Israel, which has a long-established and internationally respected legal system with a track record of investigating such crimes and prosecuting individuals when appropriate,” the letter went on to say.
Commencing an investigation would undermine prospects for peace, the letter argued, pointing to the new Abraham Accords and the important changes in the region. The signatories worry that an investigation could also harm the judicial integrity of the ICC and its international mandate.“It is essential that the court continue to observe the tenets of international law scrupulously, to operate within the mandate proscribed for it by the Rome Statute, and to avoid acting through political motivation or through the appearance of such. We believe that pursuit of this fundamentally flawed investigation jeopardizes all of these objectives.”
Among the signatories, and the list continued to grow over the weekend, are former US diplomat and governor Bill Richardson; former Canadian foreign minister John Baird; a former German defense minister; a former Italian foreign minister; a former Dutch foreign minister; a former Macedonian defense minister; former British Army commander Richard Kemp; and Italian journalist and politician Fiamma Nirenstein. Rafael Bardají is the executive director of the Friends of Israel Initiative, which circulated and put the letter together.