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The US and Israel Hope to Scare the Hague War Crimes Court off from Helping Palestine

By Jonathan Cook | The National | June 9, 2020

In the near-two decades since the International Criminal Court was set up to try the worst violations of international human rights law, it has faced harsh criticism for its highly selective approach to the question of who should be put on trial.

Created in 2002, the court, it was imagined, would act as a deterrent against the erosion of an international order designed to prevent a repetition of the atrocities of the Second World War.

Such hopes did not survive long.

The court, which sits in The Hague in the Netherlands, almost immediately faced a difficult test: whether it dared to confront the world’s leading superpower, the United States, as it launched a “war on terror”.

The ICC’s prosecutors refused to grasp the nettle posed by the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, they chose the easiest targets: for too long, it looked as though war crimes were only ever committed by Africans.

Now, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, looks poised finally to give the court some teeth. She is threatening to investigate two states – the US and Israel – whose actions have been particularly damaging to international law in the modern era.

The court is considering examining widespread human rights abuses perpetrated by US soldiers in Afghanistan, and crimes committed by Israeli soldiers in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially Gaza, as well as the officials responsible for Israel’s illegal settlement programme.

An investigation of both is critically important: the US has crafted for itself a role as global policeman, while Israel’s flagrant violations of international law have been ongoing for more than half a century.

The US is the most powerful offender, and Israel the most persistent.

Both states have long dreaded this moment – the reason they refused to ratify the Rome Statute that established the ICC.

Last week Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, stepped up US attacks on the court, saying its administration was “determined to prevent having Americans and our friends and allies in Israel and elsewhere hauled in by this corrupt ICC”.

A large, bipartisan majority of US Senators sent a letter to Pompeo last month urging him to ensure “vigorous support” for Israel against the Hague court.

Israel and the US have each tried to claim an exemption from international law on the grounds that they did not sign up to the court.

But this only underscores the problem. International law is there to protect the weak from abuses committed by the strong. The victim from the bully.

A criminal suspect does not get to decide whether their victim can make a complaint, or whether the legal system should investigate. The same must apply in international law if it is to have any meaningful application.

Even under Bensouda, the process has dragged out interminably. It has taken years for her office to conduct a preliminary investigation and to determine, as she did in late April, that Palestine falls under the ICC’s jurisdiction because it qualifies as a state.

The delay made little sense, given that the State of Palestine is recognised by the United Nations, and it was able to ratify the Rome Statute five years ago.

The Israeli argument is that Palestine lacks the normal features of a sovereign state. However, as the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem recently noted, this is precisely because Israel has occupied the Palestinians’ territory and illegally transferred settlers onto their land.

Israel is claiming an exemption by citing the very crimes that need investigating.

Bensouda has asked the court’s judges to rule on her view that the ICC’s jurisdiction extends to Palestine. It is not clear how soon they will issue a verdict.

Pompeo’s threats last week – he said the US will soon make clear how it will retaliate – are intended to intimidate the court.

Bensouda has warned that her office is being subjected to “misinformation and smear campaigns”. In January, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the court of being “antisemitic”.

In the past, Washington has denied Bensouda a travel visa, and threatened to confiscate her and the ICC judges’ assets and put them on trial. The US has also vowed to use force to liberate any Americans put in the dock.

There are indications the judges may now be searching for a bolt hole. They have asked Israel and the Palestinian Authority to respond urgently to questions about whether the temporary Oslo accords, signed more than 25 years ago, are still legally binding.

Israel has argued that the lack of resolution to the Oslo process precludes the Palestinians from claiming statehood. That would leave Israel, not the ICC, with jurisdiction over the territories.

Bensouda has suggested the issue is a red herring.

Last Thursday Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, told the ICC that in any case the PA considers itself exempt from its Oslo obligations, given that Israel has announced imminent plans to annex swaths of Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

Annexation was given a green light under President Trump’s “peace plan” unveiled earlier in the year.

Bensouda’s term as prosecutor finishes next year. Israel may hope to continue stonewalling until she is gone. Elyakim Rubinstein, a former Israeli Supreme Court judge, called last month for a campaign to ensure that her successor is more sympathetic to Israel.

But if Bensouda does get the go-ahead, Netanyahu and an array of former generals, including his Defence Minister Benny Gantz, would likely be summoned for questioning. If they refuse, an international arrest warrant could be issued, theoretically enforceable in the 123 countries that ratified the court.

Neither Israel nor the US is willing to let things reach that point.

They have recruited major allies to the fight, including Australia, Canada, Brazil and several European states. Germany, the court’s second largest donor, has threatened to revoke its contributions if the ICC proceeds.

Maurice Hirsch, a former legal adviser to the Israeli army, wrote a column last month in Israel Hayom, a newspaper widely seen as Netanyahu’s mouthpiece, accusing Bensouda of being a “hapless pawn of Palestinian terrorists”.

He suggested that other states threaten to pull their contributions, deny ICC staff the travel visas necessary for their investigations and even quit the court.

That would destroy any possibility of enforcing international law – an outcome that would delight both Israel and the US.

It would render ICC little more than a dead letter, just as Israel, backed by the US, prepares to press ahead with the West Bank’s annexation.

June 10, 2020 - Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, War Crimes | , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. “She is threatening to investigate two states – the US and Israel – whose actions have been particularly damaging to international law in the modern era”.

    And, of course Benjamin Netanyahu has labelled her as “Anti-Semitic”, which is the first sign that she is right.
    No matter what crimes the Israeli’s commit against the Palestinians, and there are so many of them, the “World’s Policeman” always turns a blind eye to it.
    Israel, and its servant state, the USA, stand alone in the World spotlight,, and everyone is watching what they do.
    If only the USA GOVERNMENT could free itself from the “Sleeper Hold” that Israel is holding it in, the World would be a much safer place.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by brianharryaustralia | June 10, 2020 | Reply

  2. Yes, “Anti-Semitism is a trick we always use it” as Israeli Minister Shulamit Aloni confessed, to cower opposition to Israeli crimes. It is also a misnomer as Israelis are largely Askenazim not Semites, whereas, ironically, most Palestinians are Semitic. In any case, Judges do not act on religious prejudices but only on the law. The bundle of facts in this case, point inexorably to Israeli complicity in decades of serious serial crimes against the Palestinians. The whole point of justice is to right wrongs and to deter offenders from further offences, which annexing more of the West Bank is a major prescient example. That the World’s highest Criminal Court can be terrorized by the criminals, shows we are under the boot of a mafia-style dictatorship that must be eradicated. As for Netanyahu sneering at the Judge as “a hapless pawn of Palestinian terrorists”! Hapless she may be under this criminal reign of terror but Palestinians have vanishingly little power to make her their ‘pawn’. And to equate them to terrorists when they cannot terrorize anyone in their unending lock-down, is to once more turn the facts upside down. It is the Israeli lobbies in the US, as Brian Harry says, which have a hold over the super-power and over many other countries, using terror tactics like threats to undermine the Court as Jonathan Cook points out. The Security Council should seize the matter to protect the Court and deny a vote from Parties with an ‘interest’ like the USA as permitted under Art.27 (3) of the Charter.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by jbthring | June 10, 2020 | Reply

    • “The Security Council should seize the matter to protect the Court and deny a vote from Parties with an ‘interest’ like the USA as permitted under Art.27 (3) of the Charter”.

      The only member countries at the UN are the “Security Council” who have the power to over-rule the General Assembly……..Israel has been censured by the General Assembly many times(must be over 100 by now), and the USA veto’s ANY move to censure Israel……Apart from their humanitarian efforts, the UN is a total waste of time.

      Like

      Comment by brianharryaustralia | June 10, 2020 | Reply


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