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West divided over ICC arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant

May 22, 2024 at 1:47 pm

A general view of the International Criminal Court (ICC) building in The Hague, Netherlands on April 30, 2024. [Selman Aksünger – Anadolu Agency]

While the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, have elicited various responses from Western countries, criticism of the ICC by nations such as the US and the UK indicates that the international community is facing a test of sincerity.

ICC Prosecutor, Karim Khan, requested the Court to issue arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant and three Palestinian officials, citing reasonable grounds to believe they bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The international community’s response to the ICC’s 17 March, 2023 decision regarding Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and Khan’s 20 May, 2024 applications for Israeli officials represent a test of sincerity.

The US and the UK strongly oppose the request for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant, while notably supporting the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin.

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Reactions from Israel, US, and UK

Netanyahu claimed that the arrest warrant application was a “new form of anti-Semitism moving from university campuses to the ICC”, while President Isaac Herzog argued that Khan’s request “crossed the line” and posed a threat to the collapse of the international judicial system.

Israeli Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, announced the establishment of a special committee within the Ministry to counter the arrest warrant request, calling it “a historic disgrace” that will be remembered forever.

Gallant said they do not recognise the Court’s authority following the application for arrest warrants for himself and Netanyahu.

US President, Joe Biden, described the request as “shameful”, and Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, emphasised their fundamental rejection of it.

In contrast, Biden called the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin, who he said had “clearly committed war crimes”, justified, and Blinken urged all ICC member states to enforce the decision.

According to reports in the British press, Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said the arrest warrant for Netanyahu does not help stop the conflict, rescue hostages or deliver humanitarian aid.

In contrast, then-Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, welcomed the ICC’s independent action regarding the arrest warrant for Putin.

Austrian Chancellor, Karl Nehammer, said on X that, while they fully respect the ICC’s independence, the simultaneous arrest warrant request for Netanyahu and Gallant, along with a Hamas leader, was incomprehensible.

However, Justice Minister, Alma Zadic, expressed support for the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin and indicated that Austria would back the ICC in the case against him.

Czech Prime Minister, Petr Fiala, described the arrest warrant request for Netanyahu and Gallant, along with three Palestinian leaders, as “horrific and absolutely unacceptable, but expressed full support for the ICC’s efforts, including the arrest warrant for Putin.”

Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban, called Khan’s request for Netanyahu “ridiculous and shameful”, while Paraguay criticised the arrest warrant request for Netanyahu and Gallant.

READ: ICC arrest warrants would bar Netanyahu, Gallant from 124 countries

EU members express respect for ICC

Meanwhile, many countries, particularly the EU members, have refrained from directly commenting on the decision, instead stating their respect for the ICC’s independence.

Some EU countries, which openly supported the arrest warrant for Putin, have chosen to remain silent on the request concerning Netanyahu and Gallant.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry expressed respect for the ICC’s independence and functioning but noted that issuing arrest warrants for both Hamas leaders and Israeli officials in the same application creates a false equivalence.

German Justice Minister, Marco Buschmann, called the decision on Putin “a sign of determination” and emphasised the obligation to enforce this ruling, stating that anyone violating international law must be held accountable.

Irish Foreign Minister, Michael Martin, acknowledged the ICC Prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants, stressing the importance of respecting the Court’s independence and impartiality. He also condemned recent threats against the ICC and its officials.

France’s Foreign Ministry affirmed its support for the ICC’s independence and its fight against impunity in all cases.

Similarly, in a statement on X, Spain’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its commitment to the ICC’s independence and impartiality, emphasising that the Court must operate freely and without interference.

Switzerland’s UN representative, Pascale Baeriswyl, in a speech at the UN Security Council, noted the request for arrest warrants and stressed the importance of supporting the ICC and respecting its independence.

Denmark’s Foreign Minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, acknowledged the request for arrest warrants and highlighted the need to carefully respect the ICC’s independence.

Norwegian Foreign Minister, Espen Barth Eide, discussed the ICC’s request for arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant with local media, indicating that Norway would be obligated to arrest them if they entered Norwegian territory, applying the same procedure for Hamas leaders.

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An Australian Foreign Ministry official expressed respect for the ICC and its significant role.

Canadian Foreign Minister, Melanie Joly, responded to journalists’ questions about Khan’s arrest warrant request by affirming respect for the ICC’s independence and closely monitoring the process.

A written statement from Chile’s Foreign Ministry noted that Chile acknowledges the arrest warrants and called on all states to support the Prosecutor’s efforts and cooperate with the investigation.

Supporting countries

Belgium’s Foreign Minister, Hadja Lahbib, saw Khan’s request as a positive step toward justice, pledging support for the ICC, and emphasised that crimes in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators.

Slovenian Foreign Ministry, in a post on X, welcomed the request against Netanyahu and Gallant, reaffirming Slovenia’s steadfast support for the ICC and expressing satisfaction with the progress in investigating the situation in Palestine.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa has responded positively to the request against Netanyahu and Gallant.

Colombian President, Gustavo Petro, described Khan’s request as a step in the right direction and expressed confidence that the Court would accept Khan’s request for arrest warrants.

President Mohamed Muizzu of Maldives welcomed the initiative against Netanyahu and Gallant, stating on X that those responsible for war crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories must be held accountable.

Oman’s Foreign Minister, Badr Bin Hamad Al-Busaidi, welcomed Khan’s request, and Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, stressed the need to respect the ICC’s efforts.

African Union’s Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, found the request against Israeli officials to be very reasonable, criticising the delay and saying it should have been done earlier.

Arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Putin

ICC Prosecutor, Khan, applied for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defence Minister Gallant. The request also included Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, also known as Mohammed Deif.

In March 2023, the ICC announced arrest warrants for Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, for war crimes, as part of its investigation into crimes committed in Ukraine.

OPINION: What’s missing in the historic ICC decision to bring Israeli leaders to justice for war crimes?

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