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30 Apr, 2024 18:19

US Congress threatens ICC over Israel arrest warrants

Lawmakers have warned of retaliation if the Hague-based court pursues war crimes charges
US Congress threatens ICC over Israel arrest warrants

Republican and Democrat US lawmakers have called for retaliation against the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it issues arrest warrants for senior Israeli figures over their roles in alleged war crimes against the Palestinians.

The US lawmakers have issued a statement warning of “consequences,” in response to media reports that the Hague-based tribunal will issue warrants for the arrests of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials. US Representative Brad Sherman (D-California) laid out his opposition to any ICC moveds against the Jewish state's leaders.

“The ICC apparently considers warrants on Israeli leaders for legitimate self-defense,” the 14-term congressman said. Sherman argued that such a move would turn the tribunal into a “kangaroo court,” adding, “President [Joe Biden] must condemn this, and I know Congress will ensure consequences for such an absurd decision.”

The potential arrest warrants are connected to the ICC’s investigation of alleged atrocities by the Israeli military and Palestinian militant groups dating back to 2014. Axios reported on Monday that Netanyahu had asked Biden to stop the ICC from trying to prosecute him or other officials in his government.

Israel and Hamas fought a month-long war in 2014. Their latest conflict began in October, when Hamas fighters launched surprise attacks against southern Israeli villages, killing more than 1,100 people and taking hundreds of hostages back to Gaza.

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed by an intense seven month bombardment by Israel since then. The UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling in January saying it was “plausible” that Israeli forces had committed acts of genocide in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Representative Ritchie Torres (D-New York) has insisted that “the weaponization of law – in the service of terror – cannot be allowed to stand,” in relation to a possible ICC warrant.

Republicans have issued similar statements. “The ICC is propping up Hamas by attempting to punish the only democracy in the Middle East just for defending itself against barbaric terrorism,” said Representative Elise Stefanik (R-New York). 

Senator John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) said seeking to prosecute Israeli leaders “would be a fatal blow to the judicial and moral standing of the ICC.” He called on Biden to intervene.

The Biden administration on Monday accused Israeli military units of human rights violations for the first time. The incidents in question occurred before the latest war with Hamas, and the administration has no plans to impose sanctions or restrict military aid to Israel.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) insisted that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel. He called the possible warrants “baseless and illegitimate,” adding that they would undermine US national security. 

Although West Jerusalem is not a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, arrest warrants might deter Israeli leaders from traveling to any of the 124 countries that recognize the court’s authority.

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