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How the ICC's move against Israel and Hamas has divided the West

How the ICC's move against Israel and Hamas has divided the West
4 min read
21 May, 2024
While some Western leaders supported the decision and called for accountability, others criticised the ICC and defended Israel.
Karim Khan is seeking arrest warrants against Israeli and Hamas leaders [Getty]

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, requested arrest warrants for two Israeli and three Hamas leaders on Monday. This has divided opinion around the world.

While Israeli politicians and officials and their allies have issued sharp rebukes against the move, other countries have come out in support of it, saying that crimes committed must be prosecuted.

The arrest warrants have been sought for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh.

The request for the warrants are based on the Hamas-led attack on Israel on 7 October which killed 1,200 people and resulted in around 250 captives being taken back to Gaza.

In response, Israel launched a brutal war on Gaza which has killed at least 35,200 Palestinians and wounded 79,000 others while utterly devastating the territory.

The ICC found they have enough evidence to suggest Israeli leaders are using starvation as a weapon of war, denying humanitarian relief efforts, deliberately targeting civilians and committing other crimes.

Hamas leaders have been accused of planning murder, taking hostages, and the ICC also stated they had reasonable grounds to believe they were responsible for acts of torture and cruel treatment.

The UK, the US and some European states have declared strong opposition to the ICC, defending Israel, while EU countries France, Belgium, and Slovenia have said the court's decisions must be respected.

UK and US opposition

The UK and US slammed the decision made by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan.

A spokesperson for Britain’s Prime Minister said on Monday the ICC prosecutor’s decision to request an arrest warrant for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is "unhelpful".

"This action is not helpful in relation to reaching a pause in the fighting, getting hostages out or getting humanitarian aid in," the spokesperson said.

"The UK, as with other countries, does not yet recognise Palestine as a state and Israel is not a state party to the Rome Statute", the spokesperson added, highlighting the ICC does not have the jurisdiction to request the arrest warrants.

US president Joe Biden called the decision to seek arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant "outrageous" in a statement.

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Biden reiterated his support for Israel amidst the ongoing war on Gaza, saying "what’s happening is not genocide. We reject that".

In his statement, Biden also lambasted the ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, for equating the actions of Israel with those of Hamas.

"Let me be clear, whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence – none between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security," he said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also rejected the warrant requests, calling them "shameful" and stating that they could jeopardise ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire and release the captives held in Gaza.

Netanyahu responded to the ICC decision calling it a "travesty of justice" and a published a video saying the warrants were a "moral outrage of historic proportions".

EU countries divided

Both Belgium and Slovenia’s foreign ministries said crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level.

Hadja Lahbib, Belgium’s foreign affairs minister, added that this must happen "regardless of the perpetrators", while Slovenia’s foreign ministry called for an independent and impartial prosecution.

"Accountability is crucial to prevent atrocities and to guarantee peace", Slovenia’s ministry wrote.

France also came out in support of the ICC’s decision, saying that they had warned for many months about the importance of complying with international humanitarian law, "in particular about the unacceptable nature of civilian losses in the Gaza Strip and insufficient humanitarian access".

"France supports the International Criminal Court, its independence, and the fight against impunity in all situations," the statement read.

However, other EU leaders hit out at the decision.

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Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said the chief’s decision was "appalling and completely unacceptable," adding that the actions "democratically elected government" and "the leaders of an Islamist terrorist organisation" could not be placed at the same level.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer expressed similar sentiments, highlighting the "terrorist organisation Hamas whose declared goal is the extinction of the state of Israel" could not be equated with "the democratically elected representatives of that very State".

Germany expressed support for the ICC, adding that they respect its independence, however, added that the arrest warrants against Hamas leaders and Israeli officials "gives the false impression of an equation".

The statement then moved on to list alleged crimes carried out by Hamas and concludes by saying the Israeli government has the right to "protect and defend its people".