Why is Energy Minister leading Israeli efforts against ICC?

3 other ministers would seem to be more logical

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during an interview with Reuters in Athens, Greece, January 2, 2020 (photo credit: COSTAS BALTAS / REUTERS)
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during an interview with Reuters in Athens, Greece, January 2, 2020
(photo credit: COSTAS BALTAS / REUTERS)
Neither the Prime Minister’s Office, nor the Foreign, Justice or Strategic Affairs ministries could explain to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday why Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz is now leading Israel’s efforts against intervention by the International Criminal Court.
The ICC is due to decide sometime after March whether to allow a full criminal probe of war crime allegations against Israel and Hamas.
A spokesperson for Steinitz also could not explain the decision, merely noting that it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call.
Over the weekend, Channel 13 reported that Steinitz has taken over the issue for Israel, meeting this past Thursday and Friday with Trump administration officials to coordinate.
Israeli officials wanted to discuss coordinated efforts against the ICC with the Trump administration right after the court’s decision Thursday to criminally probe the US for alleged war crimes in torturing Afghan detainees during the post 9/11 era.
The Post independently confirmed the report about Steinitz, but no one has explained why an energy minister without any special legal background (he has many other areas of expertise) would step in front of the country’s three ministries that have handled the issue until now.
A spokesperson for Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who was previously given responsibility for combating BDS efforts worldwide, said: “This is a question for the prime minister.”
A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that even though Steinitz is leading the efforts, “the Foreign Ministry is involved in everything and is working closely with Minister Steinitz on the legal, diplomatic and public relations fronts, along with representatives of other ministries and other government officials.”
The Justice Ministry’s division for dealing with international issues also remains highly involved, especially in addressing litigation questions.
The PMO did not comment.
One line of reasoning might be that despite being foreign minister, Katz still has less international experience than Steinitz and is known for less subtlety on the global stage.
While Erdan is focused on fighting BDS, the ICC is a different kind of challenge and might either require different skills or someone who can focus on it as their main challenge.
Acting Justice Minister Amir Ohana has the least experience, especially internationally, of all prospective ministers who could lead the charge.
Steinitz has been finance, intelligence, strategic affairs and energy minister, served on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and, with a doctorate, is considered one of the smarter ministers.
Yet, he does not have a legal background, raising speculation that Israel may now view the issue as only winnable on the diplomatic front.
On December 20, the ICC Prosecution requested the court’s Pretrial Chamber to endorse a full criminal probe into alleged war crimes by Israel and Hamas from the 2014 Gaza War and by Israel with regard to the settlement enterprise.
For the case to go forward, the ICC Pretrial Chamber will need to recognize a State of Palestine like the ICC Prosecutor has, which Israel and several allied European and other states have objected to.
The US will certainly continue to support Israel in any campaign against the ICC, but it is unclear what it can achieve, having failed to deter the court from coming after US security officials.
The ICC decision last Thursday propelling forward a probe against US security officials for seemingly “less serious” crimes like torture, would appear to signal a greater likelihood that the court will approve a probe against Israel relating to the deaths of 2,100 Palestinians – of whom 50%-80% were civilians.
On April 2019, the lower ICC Pretrial Chamber ordered the ICC Prosecutor to close the probe, saying that the investigation did not comport with the mission to pursue cases “in the interest of justice.”
In that ruling, the lower court said that, since the US was refusing to cooperate and the prosecutor would not be able to obtain evidence to make a proper case, the prosecutions’ resources would be better spent in other cases.
On Thursday, the ICC Appeals Chamber said that by evaluating the issue of “interests of justice,” the lower court went too far in analyzing the prosecution’s decision.
Rather, the top ICC court said that at this stage of a probe, the lower court should have deferred to the prosecution’s view of whether the interests of justice would be served by going forward with a criminal probe.
The ICC Prosecution decided in November 2017 that there was a basis to criminally probe the US for torturing Afghan detainees.
Despite multiple probes by Washington regarding the issue, the prosecution found that these probes were administrative in nature, and did not fulfill America’s duty to criminally probe the charges fully.
Then-US president Barack Obama decided not to criminally probe the issues, as part of an effort to heal heated internal fighting, both between Democrats and Republicans and within the intelligence community, about backing its handling of terrorists in the post 9/11 era.
When the lower court closed the case in April 2019, many commentators said it did so under the threat of US sanctions (withdrawing visas and other measures) against the ICC.
However, the ICC top court’s ruling last Thursday sent the ICC back into battle with the US over one of the most controversial aspects of the post 9/11 era – in a time period when President Donald Trump has vehemently condemned any ICC “interference” in American affairs.
Israel can still hope to convince the ICC that there is no State of Palestine or that its criminal probes of allegations against its own soldiers should get it a pass, even as the ICC goes after the US.
But generally speaking, the ruling showed the ICC top chamber as being ready to take an expansive understanding of its jurisdiction – as well as a readiness to disregard the diplomatic consequences of going after the world’s superpower.