Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the June 11 announcement made by US President Donald Trump on economic sanctions against International Criminal Court workers. Trump made his decision over an investigation of American troops for possible war crimes, but for Netanyahu, the decision would benefit also Israel, in thwarting possible probes against Israeli soldiers.
Speaking at the beginning of a press conference on the coronavirus, Netanyahu said, “This court is politicized and obsessed with carrying out a headhunt against Israel and the United States as well as other democratic countries that respect human rights, but turns a blind eye to the world’s worst human rights offenders, including the terrorist regime in Iran.” The prime minister blamed the court for fabricating accusations against Israel by claiming that Jews living in their historic homeland constitutes a war crime, adding “this is ridiculous. Shame on them.”
Israel has signed the Rome Statute, which constitutes the legal framework of the ICC, but never ratified it. In other words, like the United States, it never joined the international court in The Hague as a member state, fearing probes against soldiers and politicians. In 2015, the ICC was one of the first international forums to accept Palestine as a member state. Since then, the Palestinians have been pushing ICC prosecution to open probes against Israel. And indeed, in December 2019, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced a preliminary examination of possible war crimes committed by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Bensouda’s move was contested by several European member states, headed by Germany and the Czech Republic. Prague filed a brief arguing that the Oslo Accord gives Israel exclusive jurisdiction over criminal issues in the West Bank relating to Israel, and proves that there is no Palestinian statehood. On May 25, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a stern warning to the ICC, qualifying it as a political body. He argued the court had no authority to advance such investigations because Israel, like the United States, never joined the Rome Statute. He also noted that the Palestinians “are not qualified to obtain full membership or participate as a state in international organizations, entities or conferences, including the ICC.”
But on June 8, the chief prosecutor told the ICC’s Pretrial Chamber that a war crimes probe against Israelis could proceed despite the continued application of the accord. Israel’s Foreign Ministry preferred keeping a low profile on the announcement and did not react. On the other hand, several Israeli politicians joined Netanyahu on June 11, hailing Trump for his move against the ICC. Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (now in the opposition) tweeted, “The International Criminal Court is being misused by the Palestinians and others to pursue political campaigns against democracies, while distorting international law.”
Israeli satisfaction over the American move of sanctioning the ICC is reminiscent of Israel’s reaction over the 2017 US decision to quit UNESCO. With Trump complaining about UNESCO discriminating Israel, Jerusalem had to follow Washington and pull out of the UN agency as well. Shortly after that decision, Jewish-French Audrey Azoulay was elected to head UNESCO, a nomination that made many in Israel regret its hasty pullout.