U.S. 'Firmly Opposed' to ICC War Crimes Probe That 'Targets Israel Unfairly'

State Department argues the International Criminal Court 'has no jurisdiction' over the Palestinian territories, after prosecutor's statement that was hailed by Palestinian leadership and denounced by Israel

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Smoke rises following what witnesses said were Israeli air strikes in Gaza, in July 2014.
Smoke rises following what witnesses said were Israeli air strikes in Gaza, in July 2014.Credit: Suhaib Salem/Reuters
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – The United States is "firmly opposed" and "disappointed" by the International Criminal Court prosecutor's decision to open a formal investigation into war crimes in the Palestinian Territories, which will examine both sides in the conflict.

"We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

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"The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC, it has not consented to the court's jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC's attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel," Price argued, adding the Palestinians "do not qualify as a sovereign state, and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state in order to participate as a state or to delegate jurisdiction to the ICC."

Price noted that Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda indicated that her office would need to assess priorities and resources, before determining when and how to proceed.

U.S. President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris.Credit: POOL/ REUTERS

He also said the United States is thoroughly reviewing the sanctions instituted by former President Donald Trump's administration against ICC officials. Washington opposes the ICC investigation in Afghanistan, which is also looking at the role of U.S. forces, and the Palestinian Territories inquiry.

The pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, urged President Joe Biden to maintain the sanctions on ICC officials pursuing what it called "illegitimate, politically motivated investigations into the U.S. and Israel."

Bensouda's statement was welcomed by the Palestinian Authority and denounced by Israel. The decision follows a ruling by the court on February 5 that it has jurisdiction in the case, prompting swift rejections by Washington and Jerusalem.

Promising a "principled, non-partisan, approach", Benouda said: "In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides."

Bensouda, who will be replaced by British prosecutor Karim Khan on June 16, said in December 2019 that war crimes had been or were being committed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She named both the Israel Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

The next step will be to determine whether Israeli or Palestinian authorities have investigations themselves and to assess those efforts.

State Department Spokesman Ned Price.Credit: Tom Brenner,AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the court's decision was "undiluted antisemitism and the height of hypocrisy."

The Palestinian Authority's foreign ministry welcomed the prosecutor's investigation as "a long-awaited step that serves Palestine's tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve"

It urged all states to "refrain from politicizing these independent proceedings."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered an official condemnation in his name later Wednesday, noting that "the United States believes a peaceful, secure and more prosperous future for the people of the Middle East depends on building bridges and creating new avenues for dialogue and exchange, not unilateral judicial actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution."

"We will continue," he said, "to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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