As Keir Starmer Wheels Against Israel, Who Will Protect Netanyahu From Arrest Warrants Sought at the Hague?

Israel’s prime minister cancels plans to stop in the Czech Republic and Hungary on his way to America for fears he could be arrested.

Abir Sultan/pool via AP
Prime Minister Netanyahu during a press conference at the Kirya military base at Tel Aviv, October 28, 2023. Abir Sultan/pool via AP

With Britain’s new government reportedly intending to end its challenge to the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction, and while the Senate is divided over sanctions against ICC officials, a question arises: Will anyone now stand up to a Hague prosecutor, Karim Khan, who wants Israeli officials arrested and put in the dock?

Prime Minister Starmer’s new British government is “expected” to drop its objection to Mr. Khan’s request to issue global arrest warrants against Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, the Guardian reports. “It is also our information,” a former legal adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry, Robbie Sabel, confirms to the Sun.   

Britain’s new foreign minister, David Lammy, will reportedly visit Israel next week. Prior to the election, Mr. Lammy told CNN that if the ICC issued arrest warrants against Mr. Netanyahu, “here in the U.K. we will comply, and that will be the same across Europe.”

Mr. Netanyahu has been invited to address a joint session of Congress, scheduled for July 23. On Wednesday, his office announced that Mr. Netanyahu has canceled plans to stop in the Czech Republic and Hungary on his way to America for fears he would be arrested. 

Mr. Khan’s asked the ICC judges to issue the arrest warrants against the Israeli officials, as well as against three Hamas terrorists, on May 20. The request stunned Jerusalem, as the prosecutor was scheduled to travel to Israel on the same day for meetings with officials. Instead, he canceled the visit, and issued a public statement.     

In June, Britain argued that the ICC had no jurisdiction to try Israeli officials. The court asked London, or any other interested party, to file its brief no later than July 12. Following the Labour Party’s July 4 election victory, Britain will now skip that Friday deadline. 

“I’m very disappointed,” an international law professor at Arizona State University, Orde Kittrie, tells the Sun. “If the U.K. does not proceed with this challenge, I hope others will step up and do so.”

Mr. Sabel, who now teaches at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, says he expects several NGOs to use the original British argument on lack of ICC jurisdiction.

London’s June amicus curiae cited a 1995 agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, known as Oslo 2, which stated that in areas Palestinians control they would have “territorial and functional jurisdiction” that would apply “to all persons, except for Israelis.” 

ICC supporters argue that once it accepted Palestine as a state and since the Palestinian Authority joined it, the Hague court has jurisdiction over crimes that were committed in Palestinian territory. Israel and America do not recognize a Palestinian statehood. 

Even if Palestine were a state, Israel would argue that the Palestinian Authority has no presence in Hamas-controlled Gaza, where the alleged crimes occurred, Mr. Sabel says. And that is even before questioning the court’s jurisdiction over countries, like Israel, that are not ICC members. 

Unlike most of Europe, Israel and America — as well as Russia, Communist China, India, and others — have not ratified the Rome Statute that established the ICC. The court, nevertheless, has issued an arrest warrant against President Putin for alleged crimes committed in Ukraine, which has accepted ICC jurisdiction. 

The ICC also launched an investigation into American crimes allegedly committed in Afghanistan. Americans are pushing back against such expansion of the court’s powers, which threaten to replace the Constitution with an ill-defined and heavily politicized global judicial body. 

Two thirds of the ICC budget is financed by American allies, topped by Japan, Germany, France, and Britain, respectively. “Do these close allies really want to endanger the U.S. troops that defend them by funding the ICC’s baseless, politically driven proceedings against Israel?” Mr. Kittrie asks.  

Reacting to Mr. Khan’s request for arrest warrants against Messrs. Netanyahu and Gallant, the House of Representatives passed in early June a bipartisan bill that would impose sanctions on, and deny American visas, to foreign ICC officials. The warrants against Israelis “would directly undermine U.S. national-security interests,” Speaker Johnson said. 

The legislation is held up in the Senate, where several Democrats oppose sanctions. The White House and Department of State denounced Mr. Khan’s request for arrest warrants against Israelis, but the administration also opposes American measures against ICC officials. 

“The Biden administration should support strong congressional action to counter Karim Khan’s unjustified move to seek arrest warrants for Israeli leaders,” Mr. Kittrie, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says.  

The actor George Clooney reportedly threatened to withhold funds from President Biden’s campaign if sanctions were to be issued against ICC officials. His wife, the Lebanese-born international lawyer Amal Clooney, was on the advisory board that recommended arrest warrants against the Israeli officials, and presumably would be subject to sanctions.

On Wednesday Mr. Clooney took to the New York Times op-ed pages to urge Mr. Biden quit the presidential campaign. The actor, who cited the president’s age, made no mention of the ICC.

The New York Sun

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