Blinken hints at US sanctions against international court over arrest warrants for Israeli leaders

US secretary of state says committed to acting against world court’s ‘profoundly wrongheaded decision’ to seek arrest warrants against Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoal Gallant

Maroosha Muzaffar
Wednesday 22 May 2024 11:19
Joe Biden criticises ICC application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders

Antony Blinken has indicated that he will work with American lawmakers on potential sanctions against the International Criminal Court after it sought arrest warrants for Israel’s prime minister and defence minister, setting the stage for a confrontation with the world court in the Hague.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan on Monday applied to have warrants issued for Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoal Gallant as well as Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed Deif, accusing them of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

A panel of three ICC judges will decide, likely within a couple of months, whether to put out the warrants.

Since Israel is not a member of the court, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant do not face an immediate threat of prosecution even if the warrants are issued. But the threat of arrest could complicate their ability to travel abroad.

“We reject the prosecutor’s equivalence of Israel with Hamas,” Mr Blinken said, warning that the decision could jeopardise efforts to have a ceasefire in Gaza, agree a hostage exchange deal and increase humanitarian aid for the starving Palestinians.

The US secretary of state also said he is “committed” to acting against the “profoundly wrongheaded decision” of the ICC.

At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Mr Blinken was asked if he would support legislation aimed at preventing the world court from “sticking its nose in the business of countries that have an independent, legitimate, democratic judicial system”.

“We want to work with you on a bipartisan basis to find an appropriate response. I’m committed to doing that,” Mr Blinken responded.

“There’s no question we have to look at the appropriate steps to take to deal with, again, what is a profoundly wrongheaded decision”.

The US sanctioned ICC officials Fatou Bensouda and Phakiso Mochochoko in 2020 for seeking to investigate alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

Michael Pompeo, the then-secretary of state, said Washington had restricted visas for individuals “involved in the ICC’s efforts to investigate US personnel”.

The sanctions were lifted in 2021.

The latest ICC war crimes allegations are “significant”, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said in a statement, adding that “the application for arrest warrants is merely the beginning of a judicial process”.

“ICC has been a functioning court,” she added. “It has seen convictions, acquittals and dismissals, as we would expect from an impartial and non-political judicial body.”

Mr Netanyahu, on his part, has labelled the ICC’s decision to seek arrest warrants against him and his defence minister “a complete distortion of reality”.

“I reject with disgust the comparison of the prosecutor in the Hague between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas,” the prime minister said.

“This is a complete distortion of reality. This is exactly what the new antisemitism looks like, it has moved from the campuses in the West to the court in The Hague,” he added.

“As prime minister of Israel, I pledge that no pressure and no decision in any international forum will prevent us from striking those who seek to destroy us.”

US president Joe Biden also criticised the “outrageous” ICC application for Mr Netanyahu’s arrest.

“The ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous,” he said. “And let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”

Israel’s war on Gaza has killed over 35,000 people, wounded 79,000 and left much of the Palestinian territory in ruin. The war, the latest in a series of Israeli military operations in occupied Palestinian territories, started after Hamas attacked southern Israel on 7 October last year and killed 1,139 civilians and military personnel.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Norway, Ireland and Spain have said their countries will formally recognise Palestine as a state for the sake of “peace in the Middle East”, Al Jazeera reported.

“There cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition,” Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Store said.

His Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday that his country will recognise an independent Palestinian state on 28 May.

“Today, Ireland, Norway and Spain are announcing that we recognise the state of Palestine,” Ireland’s prime minister Simon Harris told a press conference. “Each of us will now undertake whatever national steps are necessary to give effect to that decision.”

“I’m confident that further countries will join us in taking this important step in the coming weeks.”

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