DAHK3X The Hague NL International criminal court.

European Leaders Divided on ICC Arrest Warrant Bid for Netanyahu

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By Nathalie Weatherald and Ben Munster

THE HAGUE (Politico) — While Israeli politicians of all stripes have sharply rebuked the International Criminal Court’s request for arrest warrants for its top officials, European leaders’ reactions are split.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan filed applications Monday, May 20, for arrests of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, as well as the commander of Hamas’s military wing and Israel’s defense minister, citing allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Israel and the State of Palestine.

“Crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators,” Belgium’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Hadja Lahbib, wrote in a statement on X, emphasizing Belgium’s support for the work of the ICC.

Slovenia’s foreign ministry issued a statement in a similar vein, stating that war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on Israeli and Palestinian territory “must be prosecuted independently and impartially regardless of the perpetrators.”

“Accountability is crucial to prevent atrocities and to guarantee peace,” the ministry wrote.

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Other EU leaders saw the decision less favorably.

“The ICC Chief Prosecutor’s proposal to issue an arrest warrant for the representatives of a democratically elected government together with the leaders of an Islamist terrorist organization is appalling and completely unacceptable,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala wrote.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer expressed similar reservations.

“We fully respect the independence of the ICC,” he wrote. “The fact however that the leader of the terrorist organization Hamas whose declared goal is the extinction of the State of Israel is being mentioned at the same time as the democratically elected representatives of that very State is non comprehensible.”

In London, the United Kingdom’s government distanced itself from the ICC’s move.

“This action does nothing to help reach a pause in the fighting, get hostages out or get humanitarian aid in and make progress towards a sustainable ceasefire that we want to see,” a spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

Across the Atlantic, United States President Joe Biden called the ICC’s application for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders “outrageous.”

Unlike all of the European Union’s member countries, the U.S. isn’t a full member of the ICC.

“Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas,” said Biden in a statement. “We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”

The ICC’s statement does not accuse Israeli and Hamas leaders of identical crimes, though there is some overlap.

A German statement, which came later than others, opened by saying the country respects the court, hailing its creation as a fundamental achievement of the international community, but added: “The simultaneous application for arrest warrants against the Hamas leaders on the one hand and the two Israeli officials on the other gave the false impression of an equation.”

The statement then lists crimes perpetrated by Hamas and voices support for Israel’s right to self defense.

Hamas has also criticized the ICC’s decision to file for arrest warrants for its members.

The requests for warrants will now be assessed by the pre-trial chamber of the ICC.

“Let us today be clear on one core issue: if we do not demonstrate our willingness to apply the law equally, if it is seen as being applied selectively, we will be creating the conditions for its collapse,” the ICC’s Khan said in his statement Monday.

“In doing so, we will be loosening the remaining bonds that hold us together, the stabilizing    connections between all communities and individuals, the safety net to which all victims look in times of suffering. This is the true risk we face in this moment,” Khan said.

According to Professor Zinaida Miller, an international law expert at Northeastern University, the ICC’s decision to apply for the arrest warrants suggests a degree of certainty that the applications will succeed.

“The Prosecutor would not apply for warrants at this stage unless he was confident in what he has determined thus far,” Miller told POLITICO.

At the same time, the narrow focus of the allegations on individual officials means there will be a “limited capacity to address the larger context of these crimes other than in ways that directly bear on the criminal process,” she said.

“[But] it’s worth keeping on an eye on the limited nature of the process even as we see the historic significance of the applications, particularly regarding Israeli officials.”

 

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