US and Israel Challenge ICC's Jurisdiction in Gaza Conflict

Benjamin Netanyahu Denounces ICC’s Arrest Warrant Proposal

by Faruk Imamovic
US and Israel Challenge ICC's Jurisdiction in Gaza Conflict
© Getty Images/Michael M. Santiago

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, has reacted with intense fury to the news that he might face an arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Describing the potential warrant as "a moral outrage of historic proportions," Netanyahu asserted that Israel is "waging a just war against Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organization that perpetrated the worst attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust."

In a sharp personal attack, Netanyahu labeled Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), as one of the "great antisemites in modern times." He compared Khan to judges in Nazi Germany who denied Jews their basic rights, suggesting that the decision to seek arrest warrants against Israel’s prime minister and defense minister was akin to "callously pouring gasoline on the fires of antisemitism raging around the world."

Netanyahu’s strong condemnation came through a video released by his office, delivered in English to ensure his message resonated with the foreign audience he prioritizes, particularly in the United States.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu© Getty Images/Amir Levy

Israeli Leadership United in Condemnation

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant echoed Netanyahu's sentiments, describing the ICC's actions as a "disgraceful" attempt to interfere in the war. He denounced Khan's efforts to draw a parallel between Hamas and the State of Israel as "despicable and disgusting." Gallant reiterated that Israel does not recognize the authority of the ICC, emphasizing that Israel is not a party to the Court.

The outrage from Israel’s political leadership stems from a meticulously crafted legal statement by Khan, accusing both Hamas leaders and Israeli officials of severe crimes. Khan’s determination to apply international law universally, regardless of the parties involved, forms the core of his justification for requesting arrest warrants.

Yoav Gallant
Yoav Gallant© Getty Images/Anna Moneymaker

International Reactions and Legal Implications

The proposal has sparked significant anger not only in Israel but also among its allies. U.S. President Joe Biden criticized the move as "outrageous," insisting that there is "no equivalence - none - between Israel and Hamas." Hamas, on the other hand, demanded the withdrawal of allegations against its leaders, accusing the ICC of "equating the victim with the executioner."

Khan's statement does not make direct comparisons between the sides but asserts that both have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. He underscores that this conflict falls under both international and non-international armed conflict jurisdictions.

The ICC’s recognition of Palestine as a state, based on its observer status at the United Nations, allows it to sign the Rome Statute and thus falls under the ICC's jurisdiction. This legal standing means that if arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant could face significant travel restrictions, unable to visit ICC member states without risking detention.

Human Rights Perspective and Political Ramifications

Human rights groups, such as B'Tselem, have applauded the ICC’s approach, arguing that the warrants highlight Israel’s "rapid decline into a moral abyss." They contend that the international community is signaling to Israel that it can no longer act with impunity. Critics have long accused powerful Western nations of overlooking Israeli violations of international law while condemning other states for similar actions.

Khan has accused the three main leaders of Hamas—Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh—of war crimes including extermination, murder, hostage-taking, rape, and torture. His team has conducted interviews with victims and survivors of the attacks, documenting severe human rights violations.

Yahya Sinwar
Yahya Sinwar© Getty Images

Khan asserts that while Israel has the right to defend itself, it must comply with international humanitarian law. The alleged failure to do so has led to the call for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant for crimes such as starvation of civilians, murder, and intentional attacks on civilians.

Potential Consequences for International Relations

If the ICC judges approve the arrest warrants, signatory states to the Rome Statute would be obliged to detain the accused if the opportunity arises. This scenario would severely limit Netanyahu's ability to engage with key Western allies without the threat of arrest. Countries such as the United States, which does not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction over the conflict, could become central in the geopolitical fallout.

The political dynamics within the United States might also shift, with progressive factions supporting the ICC’s actions and more conservative elements potentially moving to sanction ICC officials. This internal division could complicate U.S. foreign policy and its relations with Israel.

As the legal and political ramifications unfold, the actions of the ICC and its chief prosecutor Karim Khan will undoubtedly shape the future conduct of international law and its application to global conflicts.

A Turning Point in International Justice

The ICC's actions represent a significant moment in the enforcement of international humanitarian law. The decision to pursue arrest warrants against both Hamas and Israeli leaders marks a bold step towards accountability. Whether these actions will lead to tangible changes in the behavior of state and non-state actors in conflicts remains to be seen. However, the message is clear: impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity will not be tolerated, regardless of the perpetrator’s identity or political stature.

Benjamin Netanyahu