President Reuven Rivlin received a warm welcome from French President Emmanuel Macron on arriving at the Elysee Palace Thursday on the final leg of his tri-state mission to persuade key countries in Europe to take an uncompromising stand against Iran’s nuclear aspirations, and also to convince Europe that the International Criminal Court will be overstepping its role if it proceeds to investigate Israel for alleged war crimes.
Rivlin wearing a white mask and Macron a black mask embraced each other in the presence of the military honor guard, and mounted the steps with Macron’s arm around Rivlin’s shoulder.
Rivlin, a lawyer by profession, outlined his argument against the ICC in an op-ed published in Le Figaro Thursday, ahead of his arrival in France.
In the article, Rivlin warned that “one of the most egregious consequences of the ICC’s decision is that it will make it even harder for Israelis and Palestinians to find common ground.” Until the Court concludes its investigation, which could take several years, he continued, “It is hard to see the two sides engaging in serious negotiations. At a time when the recent agreements between Israel and Arab countries make the prospect for such progress better than any time in the recent past, this is an act of perverse logic.”
Rivlin called on friends of Israel and the Palestinians in France and beyond “to state clearly, once and for all, that the road to peace runs directly between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Detours via the ICC in the Hague and the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva are counter-productive to the cause of peace and undermine the chances of an agreement between us”, he wrote.
The two presidents last met when Macron visited Israel in January last year, and talked with Israeli leaders and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
A year earlier, Rivlin met Macron in Paris where the two discussed Iran and antisemitism, which they discussed again on Thursday.
Rivlin thanked Macron for France’s ongoing fight against antisemitism, its commitment to uphold the memory of the Holocaust and its efforts to protect its Jewish community.
He also expressed regret that there were many places where Jews were blamed for the spread of the coronavirus. Rivlin was appreciative of the acceptance by Paris and Nice of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which he called a very important step and hoped more cities would follow.
Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, who accompanied Rivlin, briefed Macron on the situation in Lebanon, saying that Israel’s northern neighbor has become hostage to Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is a terrorist organization. Lebanon has lost control of its internal politics and its security to Hezbollah, said Kohavi, emphasizing that France, which has a special interest in Lebanon, must become prominent in the international effort to see that Lebanon’s reforms are carried out and that Hezbollah is marginalized.
Hezbollah is in possession of thousands of rockets and missiles which are stored in the heart of the civilian population and are intended for use against Israel,” Kochavi explained. “The IDF is doing everything possible to prevent this from happening,” he said.
Rivlin also spoke of the threats posed by Iran and Hezbollah, and in this context referred to Iran’s increased nuclear capability, which must be halted, he said.
As for the ICC, Rivlin recalled that its establishment was initially supported by Israel, because international law plays a central role in Israel’s decision-making process. Even during difficult periods, and at times of bloody conflict, Israel’s courts of justice are open to Israeli citizens, to Palestinians, and to human rights organizations in their individual quests to test the legality of controversial Israeli actions. However, Rivlin declared, Israel will never yield her right to defend her citizens from every threat to their security. “We have seen the harm that politicization has caused to UN human rights organizations, and we can see the harm that is being done to the ICC which has bowed to political pressure,” he said.
Macron said that he welcomed Rivlin as a friend, and that friendship was enhanced by his visit. The two presidents also talked about the pandemic, the Abraham Accords with four Arab states, and mutual security issues.
According to Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, while Israel supported the concept of the International Criminal Court at its inception in 2002, it was concerned that the ICC would serve as an instrument of “lawfare”, or legal warfare, against Israel.
Thus, because an article was inserted into the 1998 Rome Statute defining the transfer of an occupying nation’s citizens to occupied territory as a war crime, even in the absence of force, and thus liable to incriminate Israelis settling in the West Bank, Israel decided not to ratify the statute nor to become a member of the ICC despite its approval of the idea.