Israel is likely to bring up the possibility of proceedings against it in the International Criminal Court in early meetings with US President Joe Biden, an official with knowledge of the matter said Sunday.
“The outgoing administration sanctioned the ICC, and we supported this pressure,” the official said. “This will be one of the issues we are eager to raise with the incoming administration.”
Israel is concerned that the Biden administration will lift sanctions on the ICC, enacted by the Trump administration last year, and the court will then allow Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to open a full investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes, KAN News reported Sunday.
Such an investigation could come with arrest warrants for prominent Israeli military and diplomatic officials, past and present.
The ICC has “a tendency to pervert justice,” and both the US and Israel are “on the receiving end of some of these crazy things,” the official said, referring to the ICC investigation of claims the US committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
“We would hope that we can find common ground with the incoming administration,” the official said.
Neither Biden nor senior members of his administration have said what their position will be on the matter.
Bensouda’s term as chief prosecutor ends in June, and Israel will also ask the Biden administration to have her be replaced with someone friendlier, Israel Hayom reported. Since neither Israel nor the US are members of the court, their direct influence may be minimal, but they could work with like-minded allies who are parties to the Rome Statute.
Bensouda conducted a preliminary investigation into alleged war crimes committed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stating she believes they have occurred. Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal, and Israel violated the laws of war during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and the 2018 Gaza border riots, she said. She also accused Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups of targeting Israeli civilians and using Palestinians as human shields.
Bensouda requested that the ICC Pretrial Chamber authorize a full criminal probe into those matters last March. The chamber has yet to decide on the matter.
Neither the US nor Israel is party to the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court, and as such, they argue that the court does not have any jurisdiction over them. The ICC is not supposed to rule in countries with judiciaries that punish war criminals.
The US slammed Bensouda’s report last year. Allies of Israel who are members of the court were also critical. Australia said “Palestine” is not a state and therefore cannot be party to the Rome Statute, and Germany warned against politicizing the court. Those countries, as well as Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Brazil and Uganda, filed amicus briefs against the ICC’s jurisdiction to adjudicate war-crimes claims against Israel.
The ICC also investigated alleged war crimes by the US, as well as other countries, in Afghanistan since 2003. Last March, an ICC judge said there were reasonable grounds to believe war crimes had been committed. Later last year, the Trump administration sanctioned ICC lawyers and investigators, and then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo called the ICC a “kangaroo court.”