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Israel will not cooperate with ICC probe, government says

Israel says the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously called the ICC's efforts to investigate Israel 'pure antisemitism' (AFP/File photo)

Israel will formally notify the International Criminal Court (ICC) that it will not cooperate with the Hague-based tribunal's probe into alleged war crimes committed in the Palestinian Territories, the Israeli government said on Thursday.

After a meeting by senior Israeli officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office reiterated his government's position that the ICC has no authority to investigate Israelis.

"Israel vehemently rejects the claim that it is committing war crimes and stresses its unequivocal stance that the ICC has no jurisdiction to open a probe against it," the statement said, according to Haaretz.

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The office of ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced last month that the court will proceed with a probe into possible abuses committed in the Palestinian Territories since 2014. 

The investigation will cover alleged war crimes both by Israeli forces and Hamas during the conflict in Gaza and Israel's settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

The court opens investigations in places where the domestic authorities are unable or unwilling to look into allegations of abuse. 

Israel maintains that it is not subject to the court's mandate because it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the tribunal, and that the ICC cannot investigate abuses in the Palestinian territories because Palestine is not a state.

Netanyahu has previously called the ICC's efforts to investigate Israel "pure antisemitism".

'Law-abiding'

On Thursday, the Israeli government described itself "law-abiding" and "capable of carrying out its own investigation" into alleged abuses. 

However, Netanyahu's government is leading policies of settlement expansion in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in violation of international law.

Moreover, human rights groups accuse Israeli authorities of failing to meaningfully investigate and prosecute violations committed against Palestinians.

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem has called the Israeli government probes into possible violations during the 2014 war on Gaza - which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians - a "whitewash protocol".

"The work of the military law enforcement system does no more than offer the illusion that Israel is fulfilling its obligation to investigate breaches of law," the group said in a 2016 report.

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Earlier this week, an Amnesty International report called on Israeli judicial authorities to "hold members of security services to account for abuses".

"Israel continued to carry out systematic violations, including crimes under international law, against Palestinians with impunity," it said.

Legal scholars critical of Israel's argument that the ICC has no jurisdiction to investigate abuses in the Palestinian territories note that Palestine has an observer state status at the UN General Assembly and is a member of many international agencies.

"You can't say that you can get away with murder just because there is no state where the murder occurred," Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian-American lawyer specialising in international law, told MEE last month.

Last week, the US State Department revoked sanctions imposed by the Trump administration against ICC officials but reiterated Washington's rejection of the probe into possible Israeli abuses.

"We maintain our longstanding objection to the Court’s efforts to assert jurisdiction over personnel of non-States Parties such as the United States and Israel," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. 

"We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed through engagement with all stakeholders in the ICC process rather than through the imposition of sanctions."