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Netanyahu to lead talks on response to alleged war crimes probe 

Talks on the matter likely linked to the Biden administration’s recent decision to lift sanctions on the prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda

Chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda at the opening of the court's judicial year with a Special Session at the seat of the court in The Hague, January 23, 2020. (courtesy ICC)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will reportedly hold high-level talks this week on how Israel will respond to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) probe of alleged war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers and Hamas terrorists.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are expected to join the internal Israeli talks, which will reportedly focus on determining an appropriate response to an ICC letter addressed to Israel. 

The International Criminal Court sent a letter to the Israeli government a few weeks ago informing the Jewish state about the ICC’s intention to probe war crimes allegedly committed during the Gaza War in 2014 between Israel and Hamas and during the violent “Great March of Return” Gaza border protests in 2018.

A similar letter was also sent to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, although it no longer controls the Gaza Strip. 

The accusations of war crimes have been widely condemned across the Israeli political spectrum. In early March, Netanyahu responded with anger at the ICC decision to move forward on the case.

“The biased International Criminal Court in The Hague reached a decision that is pure anti-Semitism,” Netanyahu said. 

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who also condemned the probe, praised Israel’s soldiers, saying that the Jewish state is “proud of its soldiers, our sons and daughters… who keep watch over their land.”

Netanyahu’s domestic political rivals have also rejected the international probe. Gantz condemned the ICC’s probe decision as “rewarding terrorism.” 

New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar called the investigation of IDF’s actions “despicable” and praised Israel’s military as “the world’s most ethical military” tasked with defending “the most threatened country in the world.”

During a recent official visit to Europe, Rivlin and IDF chief Aviv Kochavi urged German, French and Austrian leaders to reject the probe and warned that Western militaries could soon also find themselves targets of probes for alleged war crimes. 

While Israeli political and military leaders were quick to condemn the war crime accusations, the Israeli government has been surprisingly slow to translate this emotional indignation into a concrete and coherent Israeli policy response. The Jewish state has been divided domestically on whether to cooperate or to ignore the International Criminal Court’s probe.

Netanyahu’s decision to hold high-level talks on the matter is likely linked to the Biden administration’s recent decision to lift sanctions on the prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who is tasked with probing Israel. While indirectly benefiting Israel, the former U.S. sanctions were imposed by the Trump administration after Bensouda launched an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the American military forces in Afghanistan. 

In contrast to the Trump administration, the new Biden administration has embarked on a path of interaction with different international bodies. Unsurprisingly, the ICC welcomed President Joe Biden’s decision to remove the sanctions. 

“I welcome this decision, which contributes to strengthening the work of the court and, more generally, to promoting a rules-based international order,” Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, head of the Association of States Parties to the ICC, said.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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