Does ICC’s Arrest Warrant Against Netanyahu Matter?

Gaza is crumbling into rubble in revenge by Israel. For approximately 1,200 Israeli citizens’ lives, 35,000 Palestinian lives have been taken by Israel, and the violence persists. It is found that no one can rein in Netanyahu’s wish to completely destroy Hamas and harshly punish Hamas-supporting civilians in Gaza. Ceasefire talks are looking completely halted now. The United Nations has proven once again to be a waste of money. On this occasion, where the world can’t do anything except watch the wrath of Israel, an important move happened in the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Chief Prosecutor, Karim Khan, has demanded the arrest of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other important leaders of Israel and Hamas.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a permanent tribunal with jurisdiction for prosecuting individuals for charges such as international crimes, crimes against humanity, genocides, wars, aggression, and more. With headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, and more than 120 member states, it is considered a major step towards justice and human rights. Even though it was formed just two decades ago in 2002 as a continuation of the Rome Statute, it has faced severe criticism for being Eurocentric, racist, and biased. Many people have criticized the ICC as an organization that targets leaders of third-world countries and authoritarian regimes. Many believe it is another useless body like the United Nations. However, recently, at a time when the world seeks intervention from an international body to stop the bloody conflict between Israel and Palestine, the ICC has taken an important step against these leaders. This marks the first of its kind from the ICC against a Western-style democracy.

In a predicted vitriolic response, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, reacted to the accusations by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against him and the Israeli Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant. Netanyahu’s response was filled with evasions as he called the proposed charges “An attempt to deny Israel the basic right of self-defense”. The Israeli government does not recognize either operation in Gaza as a war; they are simply operating against a devastating terrorist organization, which is a proven threat to their people. Netanyahu stated that they are conducting the operation in accordance with all laws and claimed that Israel had taken unprecedented measures to ensure humanitarian assistance reaches those in need in Gaza. However, this claim is deemed unfounded in light of the evidence showing Israel’s obstruction of the delivery of food, medicine, and other vital supplies to the civilian population of Gaza, leading to famine and malnutrition in certain areas of the region. Israel’s claim does not seem to have impressed its biggest ally, the US, which has suggested making a port near Gaza to pass aid to Gaza and has often condemned the Netanyahu government for obstructing humanitarian aid and its some aid workers also killed in Israel’s attacks. In his reply to the ICC’s move, Netanyahu also played the usual card of antisemitism, accusing Khan of “Callously pouring gasoline on the fires of antisemitism that are raging across the world” and claiming that “Khan takes his place among the great antisemitism in modern times”.

The US followed suit; Joe Biden called the charges “Outrageous”, and the equivalence of Israel and Hamas made him even more angry. The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, downplayed. The US government had long opposed the power granted to the court by its founding Rome Treaty to prosecute crimes committed in the territory of member states by nationals of non-member states, but Biden did not express any anger or confusion about welcoming ICC charges against the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, for war crimes in Ukraine. The United States and Israel’s mood were echoed by European countries, the majority of which are member states unlike the US and Israel. The German government repeated the “False Equivalence” charge, criticizing treating the Democratic state of Israel and the notorious terrorist organization, Hamas, the same. Acknowledging the autonomy and significance of the International Criminal Court, certain European governments, particularly France and Belgium, have issued statements endorsing it. While all major European leaders accepted the arrest warrant for Putin over war crimes in Ukraine, the government’s response this time has been more muted. The double standard is clear.

The whole scenario with ICC started with the petition filed by South Africa alleging Israel was breaching the genocide convention. The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, a British lawyer, has applied for warrants for the arrest of five people in connection with events in Gaza and Israel since Hamas’s October 7 attacks. Khan stated that he had “Reasonable grounds to believe” three Hamas leaders,  Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh, bore criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, taking hostages, rape and sexual violence, torture, and cruel treatment. Furthermore, Khan declared that he had “Reasonable grounds to believe” that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Defense Minister, bear legal responsibility for war crimes committed during the ongoing conflict. These alleged crimes include “Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare”, intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population, and “Extermination and murder,” including deaths caused by starvation. Netanyahu, Gallant, and Hamas have all rejected these allegations.

The application now proceeds to one of the ICC’s pre-trial chambers for consideration by a panel of three judges. The arrest warrants may be approved in full, in part, or rejected. Many argue that the ICC doesn’t have much power because it lacks support from superpowers like the United States, Russia, China, and India. Though the blame will fall on Netanyahu’s shoulders if he is issued a warrant. That’s why US politicians threatened sanctions against ICC officials when the Trump administration was in charge. The Biden administration is willing to work in the same way with Congress to potentially impose sanctions against International Criminal Court officials over the prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders regarding the Gaza war. The US knows that even though it’s a mere body, the description of war will completely change after the ICC moves for the arrests of the Israeli Prime Minister.

Although Israel never ratified the court’s founding treaty, the ICC-recognized state of Palestine did sign up, and the court has jurisdiction over nationals of member states and crimes committed in their territory. The 124 states that do, however, are obliged to honor court arrest warrants if they are issued, which could severely curtail the ability of Netanyahu and Gallant to travel abroad. It is expected that the ICC’s arrest warrant will further deepen the country’s growing international isolation over its conduct in the war in Gaza. At the same time, domestic politicians support the president. Many in Israel, including staunch critics of Netanyahu, are outraged by what they see as a false equivalence between a terrorist organization and a democratically elected government. In the short term, it may well rally domestic support for the unpopular Prime minister.