The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor has announced the Hague will launch a probe into alleged war crimes by Israel in what it termed the “Palestinian territories.”
“The decision to open an investigation followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my office that lasted close to five years,” outgoing Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (pictured) said in a statement.
The Palestinian Authority welcomed the decision, which it said was in step with “Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability.”
“This is a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve,” the PA foreign ministry said in a statement.
In February, the ICC ruled it has the jurisdiction to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, prompting an outcry from Israel.
The U.S. did not condemn the decision outright but did highlight “serious concerns” regarding the “ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement said at the time.
The ICC prosecutor has just opened the first and only investigation into crimes in a situation where many member states deeply committed to the Court's mission do not believe there is even territorial jurisdiction.
— Eugene Kontorovich (@EVKontorovich) March 3, 2021
If Israel is convicted of war crimes for the 2014 conflict against the Hamas terror group in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defense ministers and other high-level officials could be subject to international arrest warrants upon travel abroad.
According to Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, several hundred Israelis, himself included, could be caught in the ICC’s crosshairs and be subject to arrest.
“I was never afraid to go across enemy lines. I will continue to stand wherever I have to,” he said when asked if he harbored fears of being arrested.
Bensouda said the investigation, which will cover crimes committed 13 June 2014, “will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour.”
“The ICC is not a panacea, but only seeks to discharge the responsibility that the international community has entrusted to it, which is to promote accountability for Rome Statute crimes, regardless of the perpetrator, in an effort to deter such crimes,” she wrote.
“In meeting this responsibility, the Office focuses its attention on the most notorious alleged offenders or those alleged to be the most responsible for the commission of the crimes.”
Her main concern, she wrote, “must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.”
In September 2020, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on senior ICC officials, including chief prosecutor Bensouda, on charges of “illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction.”
Netanyahu last month slammed the ICC’s ruling, saying it “proved once again that it is a political body and not a judicial institution.”
He went on to claim that The Hague “ignores the real war crimes and instead pursues the State of Israel, a state with a strong democratic government that sanctifies the rule of law, and is not a member of the ICC.”
The ICC “violated the right of democracies to defend themselves against terrorism, and played into the hands of those who undermine efforts to expand the circle of peace. We will continue to protect our citizens and soldiers in every way from legal persecution.”