ICC Prosecutor: I’m Not Anti-Israel

The International Criminal Court building in The Hague, Netherlands. (Reuters/Piroschka van de Wouw)

The International Criminal Court has nothing against Israel, and is not interested in the political dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told Maariv in an interview. “The court operates on the individual level and personal responsibility for war crimes,” she said. “It does not deal with political disputes, nor does it prosecute states.”

Bensouda last week said that the ICC would investigate complaints by the PA of Israeli “war crimes” in Yehuda, Shomron, and Gaza. “I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine,” she said in an official ICC announcement. “There are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.”

Bensouda’s comments were roundly condemned by Israeli leaders. State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit rejected the comments, saying there “is no reason for interference by an international court in matters such as these.” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that the decision marked “a dark day for truth and justice. They are turning the court into a political tool against Israel, and to turn the fact that Jews live in the land of their ancestors into a ‘war crime.’”

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said that the decision was “angering and illegal, violating international law. We reject the decision and call on other countries to do so, and to halt the process of turning the ICC into a political tool.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington “firmly opposes this and any other action that seeks to target Israel unfairly. We do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state, and they therefore are not qualified to obtain full membership, or participate as a state in international organizations, entities, or conferences, including the ICC.”

Bensouda told Maariv that she could not discuss specifics of the case, but that she was seeking clarification on the ICC’s jurisdiction in the matter, given the unclear political status of the areas involved.

In addition, her office denied that she had drawn up a list of Israelis who would be prosecuted. “At this time we have not drawn up any accusations against Israelis or Palestinians, and there is no investigation going on. If and when it is opened, the ICC prosecutor’s office will conduct an open and fair investigation, based only on evidence. Under the international accords that the ICC operates, all individuals prosecuted by the court are innocent until proven guilty.”

In addition, any hearings will allow testimony of “interested parties,” she said. Israeli official said that that meant that victims of terror attacks, and residents of southern Israel who tolerated the firing of thousands of rockets by Gaza terrorists at their communities, would have their say as well.

Charges that she was anti-Israeli were “ridiculous,” Bensouda said. “I work according to independent principles based on objective and fair criteria. Any attempts to claim or even hint otherwise are not based on reality.”

In a letter to Binyamin Netanyahu, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich demanded that the Prime Minister send an ultimatum to the Palestinian Authority demanding that it withdraw its petition to the ICC that Israel was guilty of “war crimes.” If the PA did not do so, Israel should withdraw all support it provides the PA, Smotrich said.

“That the Court is anti-Semitic and political in nature is clear to everyone,” Smotrich wrote. “You must give the PA an ultimatum to withdraw the complaint – and if they do not do so within 48 hours, you will withdraw all assistance that is propping the PA up. This should have been done a long time ago, like in 2015 when the PA was given the status of observer state in the United Nations.”