US State Department ‘firmly opposes’ ICC probe into Israeli war crimes allegations, insisting court lacks jurisdiction
After nearly four years of preliminary investigation, the ICC’s top prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said on Friday that the war crimes probe would be expanded into a full-scale inquiry, looking into whether Israel has carried out atrocities in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the Gaza Strip. In a statement echoing earlier remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Pompeo said the case had no merit.
“We firmly oppose this and any other action that seeks to target Israel unfairly,” Pompeo said on Friday, arguing that because Palestine does not qualify as a “sovereign state” and is not a party to the ICC’s founding charter, the Rome Statute, it cannot bring cases before the court.
Today, the #ICC prosecutor raised serious questions about the ICC’s jurisdiction to investigate #Israel. Israel is not a state party to the ICC. We firmly oppose this unjustified inquiry that unfairly targets Israel. The path to lasting peace is through direct negotiations.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 21, 2019
The top US diplomat also reiterated a “long standing objection” to any claim that the ICC has jurisdiction over non-member states, such as Israel and the United States, “absent a referral from the UN Security Council” or explicit cooperation from the nation in question. While President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute in 2000, it was never formally ratified by the Senate. Israel, too, was an early signer to the statute, but also never finalized its membership in the organization.
PM Netanyahu made a nearly identical argument to Pompeo’s earlier on Friday, insisting the court had no jurisdiction and that Palestine had not achieved statehood – a goal Palestinians have pursued for decades despite tooth-and-nail opposition from both Tel Aviv and its American benefactor.
While Palestine has yet to achieve statehood, the quasi-governmental Palestinian Authority was accepted into the ICC in 2015. Nonetheless, Bensouda signaled that she will convene with the court to confirm exactly how far its jurisdiction extends before moving ahead with the investigation.
Tel Aviv has been accused repeatedly over the years of carrying out war crimes against Palestinians, including the demolition and shelling of civilian homes and other structures, forcible relocation of residents and the use of live ammunition on unarmed demonstrators. Many of the allegations stem from Israel’s settlement project in the occupied territories.
In November, Pompeo declared that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank were legitimate under international law, overturning long standing US policy on the question. Palestinians and their advocates argue the settlements make the long sought statehood project increasingly unlikely, as Israel’s Jewish-only housing units sprawl across Palestinian land and tie up important resources. Much of the international community and the UN have long considered the settlements illegal and continue to do so, despite the American about-face.