What The ICC Arrest Warrants Mean for Israel and Hamas

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Jeremy Bowen

Benjamin Netanyahu responded with fury to the news that he might face an arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It was “a moral outrage of historic proportions”, he said. Israel was “waging a just war against Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organisation that perpetrated the worst attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”

In a bitter personal attack, Mr Netanyahu said Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was one of the “great antisemites in modern times.”

Mr Khan, he said, was like judges in Nazi Germany who denied Jews basic rights and enabled the Holocaust. His decision to seek arrest warrants against Israel’s prime minister and defence minister was “callously pouring gasoline on the fires of antisemitism that are raging around the world.’

Mr Netanyahu spoke English on the video that was released by his office. He does that when he wants his message to reach the foreign audience that matters most to him, in the US.

LightRocket via Getty Images Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip. File photo
Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza, is believed to be hiding somewhere in the Palestinian enclave

Reacting to the news, Israeli Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant on Tuesday described the arrest warrants against him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “disgraceful” attempt to interfere in the war.

“The attempt of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, to reverse the creation will not succeed – the parallel of the prosecutor between the terrorist organization Hamas and the State of Israel is despicable and disgusting.” he said in a post on X.

Before adding: “The State of Israel is not a party to the Court and does not recognize its authority.”

The outrage expressed by the prime minister, and echoed by Israel’s political leadership, was generated by pages of carefully chosen legal language in a statement issued by Mr Khan, the ICC chief prosecutor who is a British King’s Counsel.

Word by word, line by line, they add up to a devastating series of allegations against the three most prominent leaders of Hamas as well as Israel’s prime minister and defence minister.

A determination to apply international law and the laws of armed conflict to all parties, no matter who they are, lies at the heart of Mr Khan’s statement in which he lays out his justification for requesting arrest warrants.

“No foot soldier, no commander, no civilian leader – no one – can act with impunity.” The law, he says, cannot be applied selectively. If that happens, “we will be creating conditions for its collapse”.

It is the decision to hold both sides’ conduct up to the template of international law that is causing so much anger, and not just in Israel.

US President Joe Biden said it was “outrageous” to apply for arrest warrants. There was “no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas”.

Hamas demanded the withdrawal of the allegations against its leaders, claiming that the ICC’s prosecutor was “equating the victim with the executioner”. It said the request to issue arrest warrants for the Israeli leadership came seven months too late, after “the Israeli occupation committed thousands of crimes”.

Mr Khan does not make direct comparisons between the two sides, except to lay out his claim that they have both committed a series of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He also emphasises that this latest war comes in the context of “an international armed conflict between Israel and Palestine, and a non-international armed conflict between Israel and Hamas”.

The court treats Palestine as a state as it has observer status at the United Nations, which meant it was able to sign up to the Rome Statute which created the ICC.

Mr Netanyahu has declared that Palestinians will never have independence on his watch.

Courtesy: BBC

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