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Why the International Criminal Court worries Israeli officials

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court could soon do just that issue arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after more than seven months the war between the two parties, based on a request from the court’s chief prosecutor.

Karim Khan said he believes Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders – Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh – are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The ICC was established in 2002 as the permanent court of last resort to prosecute individuals responsible for the world’s most heinous atrocities: war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression.

The Rome Statute that established the ICC was adopted in 1998 and entered into force when it received 60 ratifications on July 1, 2002. The UN General Assembly has approved the ICC, but the court is independent.

Without police, the ICC relies on member states to arrest suspects, which has proven to be a major obstacle to prosecution.

Netanyahu said last month that Israel “will never accept any attempt by the ICC to undermine its inherent right to self-defense.” He said that while the ICC will not influence Israel’s actions, it would “set a dangerous precedent.”

WHAT IS THE ICC?

The 124 member states of the ICC have signed the Rome Statute. Dozens of countries have not signed the treaty and do not accept the court’s jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide and other crimes. These include Israel, the United States, Russia and China.

The ICC becomes involved when countries are unable or unwilling to prosecute crimes on their territory. Israel claims it has a functioning legal system, and that disputes over a country’s ability or willingness to prosecute have fueled previous disputes between the court and individual countries.

In 2020 the then American president Donald Trump has approved economic and travel sanctions about the ICC prosecutor and another senior staff member of the Public Prosecution Service. The ICC staff investigated US and allied troops and intelligence officials possible war crimes in Afghanistan.

US President Joe Biden, whose administration has provided crucial military and political support to the Gaza offensive, lifted sanctions in 2021.

The ICC has seventeen ongoing investigations, has issued a total of 42 arrest warrants and taken 21 suspects into custody. The judges convicted ten suspects and acquitted four.

In its early years, the court was criticized for focusing on crimes in Africa, but now conducts investigations in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.

WHAT IS THE ICC’S RELATIONSHIP WITH ISRAEL AND PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES?

The UN General Assembly upgraded the Palestinians’ status in 2012 from a UN observer to a non-member observer state. That opened the door for the Palestinian territories to join international organizations, including the ICC.

The ICC accepted “The State of Palestine” as a member in 2015, a year after the Palestinians accepted the court’s jurisdiction.

The court’s then chief prosecutor announced in 2021 that he would open an investigation into possible crimes on Palestinian territory. Israel often leveled accusations of bias at the UN and international bodies, and Netanyahu condemned the decision as hypocritical and anti-Semitic.

Khan, the current ICC prosecutor, visited Ramallah and Israel in Decembermeeting Palestinian officials and families of Israelis killed or taken hostage by Hamas militants during the October 7 attack that sparked the war between Israel and Hamas.

Khan called Hamas’s actions “some of the most serious international crimes that shock the conscience of humanity, crimes that the ICC was created to address,” and called for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.

Khan said that “international humanitarian law must still apply” in the war between Israel and Hamas and that “the Israeli military knows the law that must be applied.” After the visit, Khan said the ICC is investigating possible crimes by Hamas militants and Israeli Defense Forces “is a priority for my office.”

Who else has the ICC indicted?

Last year, the court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian president Vladimir Putin on charges of responsibility for the kidnapping of children from Ukraine. Russia responded by issuing its own arrest warrants against Khan and ICC judges.

Other prominent leaders indicted by the court include deposed Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir, on charges including genocide in his country’s Darfur region. Former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was captured and killed by rebels shortly after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for him on charges related to the brutal suppression of anti-government protests in 2011.

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