Israel intends to tell the International Criminal Court in The Hague that it has no jurisdiction to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement Thursday.
On March 3, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced it would investigate Israel and Hamas for possible war crimes committed in the territories since June 2014. Formal notices were sent out March 9, giving Israel and the Palestinian Authority until April 9 to apply for a deferral by proving they are carrying out their own investigations into the alleged offenses.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi held a meeting on the matter Wednesday and continued deliberations Thursday. National Security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and other senior officials also attended the meeting.
According to the statement, Israel has decided to adopt the recommendations of the inter-ministerial team headed by the National Security Council not to cooperate with the ICC.
"However, Israel has decided to respond to the notice sent by the ICC and make clear it is acting without having the jurisdiction to do so. Moreover, it should be noted that Israel is a law-abiding country that is capable of carrying out its own investigation," the statement said.
"Israel vehemently rejects the claim that is committing war crimes and stresses its unequivocal stance that the ICC has no jurisdiction to open a probe against it. This stance has been made clear to the ICC through other countries and world-renowned experts," the statement added.
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The Biden administration announced last week that it was lifting sanctions imposed by former U.S. President Donald Trump on ICC officials.
"We continue to disagree strongly with the ICC's actions relating to the Afghanistan and Palestinian situations," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. "We maintain our longstanding objection to the court's efforts to assert jurisdiction over personnel of non-States Parties such as the United States and Israel. We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed through engagement with all stakeholders in the ICC process rather than through the imposition of sanctions."
The move lifts the sanctions imposed on Bensouda and removes Phakiso Mochochoko, head of the ICC's Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, from the Specially Designated Nationals list. Blinken said the State Department had also terminated a separate 2019 policy on visa restrictions on certain ICC personnel and added: "These decisions reflect our assessment that the measures adopted were inappropriate and ineffective."
Washington quickly announced its firm opposition to and disappointment in Bensouda's decision to open an investigation into the alleged war crimes after it was announced, claiming that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the matter since Israel is not a party to the ICC and that the Palestinians do not qualify as a sovereign state.