Israel on the docket?
US Slams 'Tragic Irony' of ICC 'War Crimes' Probe

US State Department says ICC probe against Israel 'counterproductive to peace,' notes Israel has withstood 'thousands of terrorist rockets.'

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Barack Obama, John Kerry, Susan Rice
Barack Obama, John Kerry, Susan Rice

The United States joined Israel in condemning the International Criminal Court (ICC) decision to open a preliminary probe Friday into possible "war crimes" committed by Israel, blasting the move as a "tragic irony."

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office would conduct an "analysis in full independence and impartiality" into supposed war crimes by Israel, including accusations from Hamas's most recent terror war against Israel last summer.

Her decision comes after the Palestinian Authority (PA) formally went through the process to join the ICC earlier this month in a unilateral breach of the Oslo Accords. The move allows it to lodge war crimes and crimes against humanity complaints against Israel as of April - it also leaves the PA open to such lawsuits.

The US criticized the ICC decision late Friday, saying it opposed actions against Israel at the ICC as "counterproductive to the cause of peace."

"It is a tragic irony that Israel, which has withstood thousands of terrorist rockets fired at its civilians and its neighborhoods, is now being
scrutinized by the ICC," US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier criticized the prosecutor's decision, calling it "scandalous" and "absurd" since "the
Palestinian Authority cooperates with Hamas, a terror group that commits war crimes, in contrast to Israel that fights terror while maintaining international law, and has an independent justice system."

Israel has also criticized the ICC move on the basis that the PA is not a "state" by any criterion - such as having internationally recognized borders - but rather a governing body created in the 1993 Oslo Accords, a fact that ostensibly should have prevented it from joining the ICC.

Gambian-born Bensouda had earlier stressed that "a preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available...on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation."

Bensouda will decide at a later stage whether to launch a full investigation.

Double standards

The PA unilateral move to join the ICC comes as part of an apparent new strategy to bring the international community in on its side against Israel, a strategy that saw the PA filed a unilateral resolution at the UN Security Council last month demanding recognition and Israel withdrawals which was shot down.

Apparently the PA move also is intended to put an end to the US-led peace negotiations that have prevailed until now.

The PA was upgraded from observer status to UN "observer state" status in 2012, which allowed the administrative body of the terrorist organization Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to pursue unilateral moves against Israel such as joining the ICC.

Israel reacted swiftly on Friday, slamming the announcement. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) said the sole purpose of the preliminary examination was to "try to harm Israel's right to defend itself from terror," and said the decision was "solely motivated by political anti-Israel considerations."

Liberman accused the court of double standards for not examining the mass killings in Syria or other conflict zones, investigating instead "the most moral army in the world."

After the PA filed its UN resolution and ICC request in a unilateral breach of the Oslo Accords last month, Israel earlier this month took a punitive respond by delaying the transfer of some $127 million in taxes it collects on behalf of the PA.

PA foreign minister Riyad al-Malki welcomed the ICC's move. "Everything is going according to plan, no state and nobody can now stop
this action we requested," he told AFP.

"In the end, a full investigation will follow the preliminary one," he opined.

Rights group Amnesty International welcomed the ICC's announcement saying it "could pave the way for thousands of victims of crimes under international law to gain access to justice."

But the initial probe could lead to an investigation into crimes "committed by all sides", Amnesty stressed in a statement, with many noting that every missile fired on Israel by the PA's unity partner Hamas, and indeed by PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah, constitutes a war crime.

Second time's the charm?

Friday's announcement is the second such initial probe by the ICC's prosecutor into the situation in Israel.

The Palestinian Authority in 2009 lodged a complaint against Israel, but the ICC prosecutor said in 2012 after "carefully considering legal arguments" it could not investigate because of the PA' status at the UN.

At the time the PA's "observer" status blocked them from signing up to the ICC's founding Rome Statute.

The ICC, which sits in The Hague in the Netherlands, is the world's first independent court set up in 2002 to investigate genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But it can only probe alleged crimes in countries that have ratified the Rome Statute, or accepts the Hague-based court's jurisdiction for a certain time period, or through a referral by the UN Security Council.

Currently, chief prosecutor Bensouda is also running preliminary investigations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Iraq and Ukraine.

While 123 countries have now ratified the Rome Statute, Israel and the United States have not, meaning the ICC suit against Israel remains in limbo.