ICC urged to delay possible war crimes charges against Israel and Hamas

Diplomats from the G7 industrialised nations have urged officials at the international criminal court not to announce war crimes charges against Israel or Hamas officials, amid concerns that such a move could disrupt the chances of a breakthrough in ceasefire talks.

Israeli politicians including the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have suggested that the ICC could press charges imminently after an investigation launched in 2021 that covers events starting in 2014. The inquiry has also been looking at Israel’s construction of settlements in occupied territory.

The ICC has not commented officially and has advised diplomats that it is not aware of any dramatic moves in the investigation. The prosecutor Karim Khan must have any request for an arrest warrant validated by three judges, and this final step would have to be completed if charges were to be announced this week.

But Israel appeared to be taking the rumours of imminent arrest warrants so seriously that late on Sunday the foreign minister, Israel Katz, sent messages to Israel’s embassies abroad advising them to prepare for a severe antisemitic backlash should the court take action. Reports in Israeli media suggested the warrants could potentially be against Netanyahu, the defence minister, Yoav Gallant, and the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Lt Gen Herzi Halevi.

Katz said: “There is nothing more distorted than attempting to prevent Israel from defending itself against a murderous enemy openly calling for the destruction of the state of Israel. If the warrants are issued, they will harm the commanders and soldiers of the IDF and provide a morale boost to the terrorist organisation Hamas and the axis of radical Islam led by Iran against which we are fighting.”

The ICC rumours started to swirl on Friday when Netanyahu said forthcoming decisions by the ICC could set a dangerous precedent.

“We will never stop defending ourselves. Whereas decisions of the court in The Hague will not affect Israel’s actions, they would set a dangerous precedent threatening the soldiers and officials of any democracy fighting criminal terrorism and aggression,” he said.

Israel has made a string of announcements in recent days about allowing more humanitarian aid into Gaza, but that appears to be a strategic response to renewed pressure from the White House rather than heading off possible ICC action.

The ICC’s Khan said during a visit to Egypt in December that the investigation was “moving forward at pace, with rigour”.

One of his first acts as prosecutor was to establish a dedicated team to investigate the Palestinian situation. In a speech in Egypt in which he condemned the 7 October raid by Hamas on Israel and underlined that the taking of hostages was a war crime, he also said of people in Gaza: “The fact that innocent civilians are trapped under the weight of a war they cannot escape and which is not their fault is not tenable.”

Any ICC arrest warrants could put Israeli officials at risk of arrest in other countries. They would also serve as a major rebuke of Israel’s actions at a time when pro-Palestinian protests have spread across US college campuses and elsewhere.

US diplomats at the UN insisted that Washington regarded the ICC as independent and it would not be interfering in its decision-making process. The US and Israel do not recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC, which is vested with the task of prosecuting war crimes.

According to a report on the Axios news website, Netanyahu has appealed to Biden to intervene to stop the warrants being issued. The US is not a member of the court, but under the Trump administration it sanctioned court officials after complaining about its investigations of US military operations in Afghanistan and Israeli actions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Asked about the prospect of ICC warrants, the White House spokesperson, Karine Jeanne-Pierre, said: “We’ve been really clear about the ICC investigation. We don’t support it; we don’t believe that they have the jurisdiction.”

US politicians spoke out, with the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, saying: “Such a lawless action by the ICC would directly undermine US national security interests. If unchallenged by the Biden administration, the ICC could create and assume unprecedented power to issue arrest warrants against American political leaders, American diplomats, and American military personnel, thereby endangering our country’s sovereign authority.”

Democratic senator John Fetterman warned: “It would be a fatal blow to the judicial and moral standing of ICC to pursue this path against Israel.” He said he was calling on Joe Biden to intervene as part of the administration’s ongoing commitment to Israel.

The international court of justice, a separate UN court responsible for handling inter-state disputes, is due to reveal on Tuesday if it will accept a request by Nicaragua to order Germany to stop providing humanitarian or military aid to Israel on the basis that Germany has a duty under the genocide convention to prevent a potential genocide.

Israel has rejected allegations of wrongdoing and accused both international courts of severe bias.


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