The ICC’s threat to arrest Binyamin Netanyahu has shocked Israel | World News - Hindustan Times
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The ICC’s threat to arrest Binyamin Netanyahu has shocked Israel

The Economist
May 28, 2024 08:00 AM IST

America and Israel have reacted with outrage at the implied equivalence between Israel and Hamas

IT HAD been expected in Israel for weeks, but was still a shock when it came. On May 20th the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, announced that he was requesting arrest warrants for Binyamin Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant, Israel’s prime minister and defence minister, as well as the leaders of Hamas, the Islamists who launched the deadly attack on Israel on October 7th last year, on charges of war crimes.

FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a ceremony marking Memorial Day for fallen soldiers of Israel's wars and victims of attacks at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl military cemetery Monday, May 13, 2024. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)(AP) PREMIUM
FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a ceremony marking Memorial Day for fallen soldiers of Israel's wars and victims of attacks at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl military cemetery Monday, May 13, 2024. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)(AP)

The prospect of their leaders appearing in the dock along with the perpetrators of a massacre against them is unthinkable for Israelis. But it is a sign of the horror with which many have come to view their government’s devastating war in Gaza. Mr Khan, a British lawyer, issued detailed and lengthy accusations against both sides. He opened with the allegations against the Hamas chiefs, Yahya Sinwar (pictured right), Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh, detailing the murder, sexual assault and kidnapping of Israeli citizens. But the charges against the Israeli ministers were no less pointed.

Read all our coverage of the war between Israel and Hamas

Mr Khan noted that Israel has the right to protect its citizens, but he accused it of having pursued “starvation as a method of war” in Gaza. Israel has denied this charge, pointing to the aid convoys that have been allowed through. But this has mainly happened in the past couple of months and under international pressure. There is ample evidence that Israel has closed routes into Gaza and disrupted the supply of aid. Earlier in the war Israeli ministers also made clear in public their intention to impose a “total siege” on Gaza. Mr Khan has chosen to focus on these war tactics, rather than the bombing of civilian areas. He has also chosen, at least for now, to target Israel’s political leaders rather than its generals. Nor did the charge sheet include the allegation of genocide. Mr Khan may be sticking to crimes that are easier to prove.

The judges in the ICC’s pre-trial chamber must now decide whether there is enough evidence to issue the arrest warrants. Even if they do, Israel has not ratified the Rome statute setting up the ICC, so is under no legal obligation to hand over its leaders. Mr Sinwar and Mr Deif are hiding in Gaza and Mr Haniyeh rarely, if ever, travels to a country which is a party to the treaty. A trial in The Hague is unlikely.

But it is still devastating; far more so for Israel, a country with a democratically elected government and aspirations to be part of the Western world, than for Hamas, a terrorist group. Some Western leaders have already criticised the ICC for implying an equivalence between the leaders of Hamas and Israel. However, if the prosecutor’s request is granted, they would be legally bound to arrest Mr Netanyahu if he travels to their countries.

America, which like Israel is not a signatory, has a different dilemma. For months Joe Biden, the president, has both publicly and privately beseeched Mr Netanyahu to allow more aid through and to go to greater lengths to avoid civilian casualties. In recent weeks he has delayed at least one shipment of arms that could be used in Israel’s offensive on the city of Rafah. The ICC prosecutor’s claims are in line with the American criticisms, but Mr Biden nonetheless called them “outrageous”.

America has a mixed relationship with the court. Donald Trump, Mr Biden’s predecessor (and possible successor), issued sanctions against the ICC for investigating allegations of war crimes committed by American troops in Afghanistan. Mr Biden lifted those sanctions and worked with the court on issuing an arrest warrant last year for Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia. America’s response this time, however, is shaped by the fact that Israel is one of its closest allies.

At home, Mr Netanyahu got rare support from his political foes. “It is not possible to issue arrest warrants against Netanyahu, Sinwar and Deif,” said Yair Lapid, an opposition leader who has told Mr Netanyahu to resign. “There is no such comparison. We cannot accept it and it is unforgivable.” Benny Gantz, another rival of the prime minister also rallied around him.

But this will almost certainly be short-lived. Israeli security officials have been quietly warning politicians that withholding humanitarian aid early in the war would come back to haunt Israel. “It should have been clear they would have to walk back the bombastic statements on besieging Gaza,” said one army officer. “So why do it in the first place?”

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© 2023, The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved. From The Economist, published under licence. The original content can be found on www.economist.com

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