The government of Israel has given high priority to the handling of the International Criminal Court decision to probe alleged Israeli “war crimes” against the Palestinians.
The government approved a request by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to hold discussions of the matter secretly and to convene the security cabinet on Sunday evening as well.
Two unnamed ministers told Channel 12 that disclosure of the government’s response to the ICC investigation could damage the national interest.
Accordingly, Netanyahu cited Section 35 of Israel’s Basic Law which states that “debates and decisions of the Government and those of the Ministerial committees regarding” certain matters “are secret and their disclosure and publication is prohibited.”
The ICC’s top prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced over the weekend that there was a “basis” to probe Israel’s settlement policy in Yehuda and Shomron, the 2014 Gaza war, the Israeli response to violent protests on the Gaza border, and the targeting of civilians by Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups.
The prosecutor referred the matter of the probe to the Hague-based tribunal to rule on the specific territory over which it has jurisdiction, as Israel is not a member of the court.
Netanyahu denounced the ICC move during the lighting of the first candle of Hanukkah at the Kosel, saying:
“We have fought against immeasurable odds as no people has fought in history. We crossed the abyss from extinction to survival, independence and now a thriving democracy. And yet, we find ourselves now in the beginning of the 21st century, in the year 2019, where the International Criminal Court, that should know otherwise, has set forth decrees that are just as antisemitic as the decrees of the Greeks.
“They say the Jews do not have a right to settle in the Jewish homeland. They say the Jews do not have a right to live in the land of the Jews, in the Land of Israel. Well, we say, shame on you. The light of truth lights here and we will overcome you, just as we overcame other antisemites in history.
“Pure antisemitism, that’s what the ICC has done, and we will not bow our heads,” said Netanyahu, with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman alongside.
Quoting an official in the Prime Minister’s Office, Channel 12 reported that Israel has not yet decided whether to cooperate with the ICC’s pretrial process in the coming 120 days.
But diplomatic sources told the network: “There will be no cooperation with the court… certainly not if it will eventually be decided to open an [official] probe.” Private Israeli organizations could potentially defend those prosecuted but the Israeli government would not work with a probe in any formal capacity, they said.