Israel is lobbying member-states of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to cut funding for the tribunal in response to its launch of a preliminary inquiry into possible war crimes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, officials said on Sunday.
ICC prosecutors said on Friday they would examine “in full independence and impartiality” crimes that may have occurred in these Palestinian territories since June 13, 2014. This allows the court to delve into the Israeli assault on Gaza in July and August that killed more than 2,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 72 Israelis, most of them soldiers.
The decision came after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in the absence of peace talks and against strong opposition from Israel and the United States, requested ICC membership, which will come into effect on April 1.
Israel, which like the United States does not belong to the ICC, hopes to dent funding for the court that is drawn from the 122 member-states in accordance with the size of their economies, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday.
“We will demand of our friends in Canada, in Australia and in Germany simply to stop funding it,” he told Israel Radio.
“This body represents no one. It is a political body,” he said. “There are a quite a few countries — I’ve already taken telephone calls about this — that also think there is no justification for this body’s existence.”
He said he would raise the matter with visiting Canadian counterpart John Baird on Sunday.
Another Israeli official said that a similar request was sent to Germany, traditionally one of the court’s strongest supporters, and would also be made to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is separately visiting Jerusalem and whose nation is the largest contributor to the ICC.
Meanwhile, Hamas on Saturday welcomed the ICC inquiry and said it was prepared to provide material for complaints against the Zionist state.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said on Saturday the group appreciated the move.
“What is needed now is to quickly take practical steps in this direction and we are ready to provide (the court) with thousands of reports and documents that confirm the Zionist enemy has committed horrible crimes against Gaza and against our people,” he said in a statement.
The US State Department, echoing Israel’s stances, said on Friday that it strongly disagreed with the move. The United States has argued that Palestine is not a state and therefore not eligible to join the ICC.
“We strongly disagree with the ICC prosecutor’s action,” spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement. “The place to resolve the differences between the parties is through direct negotiation, not unilateral actions by either side.”
An initial ICC inquiry could lead to war crimes charges against Israel, whether relating to the recent Gaza war or its 47-year-long occupation of the West Bank. It also occupied Gaza from 1967 to 2005.
ICC membership also exposes the Palestinians to prosecution, possibly for rocket attacks on Israeli targets by armed groups operating out of Gaza.
The ICC, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, is the court of last resort for its 122 member states, aiming to hold the powerful accountable for the most heinous crimes when national authorities are unable or unwilling to act.
But the ICC has struggled over its first decade, completing just three cases and securing two convictions. Critics say it has been vulnerable to political pressure and opposition from non-members the United States, China and Russia.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)