Israel has reacted in typical belligerence to the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s announcement that there are sufficient grounds to investigate war crimes committed against Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories. The ICC’s statement is by no means a definite confirmation of prosecution – it states that “there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine.” Israel, however, has construed this preliminary announcement as confirmation of prosecution.
The usual threats of further political violence ensued, in a bid to dissuade the Palestinian Authority from proceeding further. Israeli Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich demanded an ultimatum to be given to the PA for its dismantling, stating: “The advantages of the PA’s existence are not [and have not been for a long time] worth the diplomatic damage it causes us.”
Predictably, Israel has also refused to cooperate in the investigations and communicated the decision to classify all government discussions of the ICC probe. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested the ban on disseminating information regarding governmental deliberations over the ICC. Along with other decisions to refuse entry to ICC officials, as it has done on several other occasions to international representatives, the Israeli security narrative has extended to protect its war crimes trajectory.
Tal Becker, Israel’s Foreign Ministry adviser, described the ICC procedures as “a Palestinian effort to criminalise the conflict.” His words echo the Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s statement, when he accused Palestinians of attempting to “push the court to determine political issues that should be resolved by negotiations, and not by criminal proceedings.” Denials that a criminal investigation is necessary also came from former army Chief of Staff and leader of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) Party Benny Gantz, who framed the ICC’s communication as tampering with “Israel’s international legitimacy”.
What has been achieved so far is a renewed spotlight on how Israel openly flaunts its aggression against Palestinians, in terms of massacres, extrajudicial killings and settlement expansion, yet expects its war crimes to be misconstrued as “conflict”. UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk, who in July advocated for the severing of ties with Israel if settlement expansion continues, reaffirmed that Israel’s actions constitute violations of international law and constitute war crimes.
Israel has manipulated international law by maintaining its “exception” status and security narrative. However, it shows no intent of providing proof to justify its actions before an international investigation. Israel expects to maintain its position on the world stage and influence international diplomacy while shielding the perpetrators and state policy from scrutiny.
Of course Israel does not relish any unfavourable spotlight at a time when the US has given the settler-colonial entity a green light to commit as many violations of international law under its auspices. At the moment, the ICC decision is an opportunity to portray Israel’s duplicity in terms of human rights and war crimes. Five years since “Operation Protective Edge” and decades of settlement expansion have rendered the concept of justice for Palestinians illusory. However, this is not an excuse to refrain from determining accountability and culpability when it comes to the war crimes committed against the Palestinian people.