Blinken criticised for opposition to ICC investigation into Israeli 'war crimes'

Blinken criticised for opposition to ICC investigation into Israeli 'war crimes'
US civil rights groups have denounced Anthony Blinken's opposition to the ICC investigation, noting that it concerns war crimes in illegally occupied territories.
3 min read
06 March, 2021
US civil rights groups have denounced the secretary's statement [AFP]
WASHINGTON D.C. (The New Arab) - This week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was met with criticism for his opposition to the International Criminal Court's (ICC) announcement of its investigation into Israeli war crimes.

"The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the Court's jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC's attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel," read a press statement issued by Blinken's office on the matter, which was titled: "The United States Opposes the ICC Investigation into the Palestinian Situation."

Civil rights groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), denounced the secretary's statement, noting that the investigation was for war crimes in illegally occupied territories. They also took issue with Blinken's characterisation of Israel's occupation as the "Palestine situation."

After a five-year initial investigation, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated on Wednesday that the court has jurisdiction in the occupied Palestinian territories and would open an investigation.

It is unclear what prompted Blinken to come out with such a statement against this move by the ICC, but prior to his announcement a bipartisan group of senators had begun gathering signatures for a letter calling on Blinken to denounce the ICC decision. In the letter, the senators disagreed with the ICC's basis for what constitutes a Palestinian state, using similar wording and logic as Blinken's statement less than a week later. "The ICC does not have legitimate territorial jurisdiction in this case," the letter stated.

Juan Cole, a professor of history at University of Michigan, describes the move by the ICC as "brave" and says that "they're on firm legal ground."

The Palestinians were accepted into the United Nations General Assembly as a non-member observer state in 2015. That same year, it joined the ICC, which has jurisdiction over its 123 signatory countries, which do not include Israel and the United States. In February, the ICC concluded that they had jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories.

"This has been a long time coming. There has been no haste and no shoddiness," Cole tells The New Arab. "By international law, I don't think there are any grounds for objection. Blinken said they don't have jurisdiction over Israel. This is correct, but irrelevant. They're investigating what happened in Palestinian territories. Either Blinken is misinformed or being disingenuous."

Read also: Bereaved Gazans look to ICC for closure

Until now, all of the ICC's cases have been against African dictators, prompting criticism of the narrowness of its jurisdiction. As in the case of Omar Bashir in Sudan, if convicted, Israeli military leaders and officials would not face prison, but they could have difficulty traveling to other countries. Moreover, what makes this move unusual for Israel is its potential to tarnish Israel's image.

"I think it's symbolic. It's powerful symbolism, however, in the sense that Israelis want to be seen as the good guys, as a minority being persecuted by the Muslim world," says Cole. "Being convicted of war crimes would be a big black eye for their standing in Europe."

Brooke Anderson is The New Arab's correspondent in Washington D.C., covering US and international politics, business and culture.

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