Israeli Foreign Minister Seeks Support From World Powers to Preempt War Crimes Probe

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Gabi Ashkenazi speaks to reporters, last year.
Gabi Ashkenazi speaks to reporters, last year.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi launched a round of talks on Monday with counterparts from around the world with the aim of putting pressure on the International Criminal Court to keep it from taking any additional steps against Israel.

ICC judges issued a decision on the weekend that it had jurisdiction in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, a decision that would permit it to conduct a war crimes investigation against Israel and Hamas.

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The decision on jurisdiction came despite Israel’s objections, and the issue came up in telephone conversations Ashkenazi had on Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It was also mentioned in a personal conversation with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, who is part of a delegation currently visiting Israel and headed by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Jonathan Shrier, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Israel, made it clear in a personal meeting with Ashkenazi that Washington would try to help Israel with regard to steps that could be taken.

The United States and Russia, like Israel, are not members of the ICC, however Germany is a member and was one of seven member countries to present an opinion supportive of Israel’s position that the court does not have any legal jurisdiction in the territories occupied during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The court’s decision was handed down following an appeal by the chief prosecutor, Fatsou Bensouda, who asked to check whether she has the authority to investigate suspected war crimes perpetrated in the territories, after a complaint was filed by the Palestinian Authority against Israel.

Following this decision made in principle, the prosecutor must decide whether to open an investigation. In the event that she does, Israel would have 30 days to inform the court that it intends to investigate its own citizens accused of committing crimes. In such a case, the prosecutor would need the court’s approval if she were interested in launching an immediate investigation.

Bensouda is not obligated to issue a statement within any particular period. In June she is expected to complete her term and in the coming days the court is expected to announce her successor. Bensouda could leave a decision on the matter up to her successor and therefore the successor’s identity is important from Israel’s standpoint. Countries such as Germany that are members of the court can influence its choice of prosecutor.

National leaders can also try to influence the court behind the scenes to avert any final decision on an investigation at this time.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department has already expressed “serious concerns” about the ICC’s decision. Australia and Canada, also members of the court, joined its critics. Australia expressed its concern about the decision, while Canada said Monday that its “longstanding position remains that it does not recognize a Palestinian state and therefore does not recognize its accession to international treaties, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

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