Bipartisan lawmakers call on Pompeo to defend Israel against ICC probes

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A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers sent separate letters Wednesday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for the U.S. to defend Israel against investigations by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The lawmakers argued moves by the ICC to investigate Israel for war crimes against Palestinians is a “politicization” and “misuse” of the court’s intended purposes.

The Senate letter was led by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and included 69 signatures. In the House, Reps. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) led their letter of over 260 signatures.

The letters come in response to a 60-page position paper issued last month by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that defends the court’s jurisdiction to investigate warcrimes occurring in disputed Palestinian territories in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. The prosecutor further stated that Palestine is a state for the purposes of the investigation.

The senators pushed back on this assertion.

“The ICC has no jurisdiction over disputed territories and their claim creates a dangerous precedent that undermines the purposes for which the court was founded,” Sens. Cardin and Portman said in a joint statement. “This effort is discriminatory against Israel and will serve to make a lasting solution, based on direct negotiations between the two parties, more difficult to achieve.”

Both the U.S. and Israel are not members of the ICC, with U.S. officials arguing the court’s role is best served investigating the most serious international crimes among states whose judicial systems are ill equipped to investigate such cases.

The U.S. has earlier sparred with the ICC. In March 2019, the Trump administration imposed visa restrictions against ICC investigators looking at war crimes in Afghanistan allegedly committed by Americans.

In March of this year, after Bensouda claimed the ICC had a reasonable basis to exercise jurisdiction over war crimes in Afghanistan, Pompeo said the prosecutor was acting on “misinformation” fed by foreign parties. 

House lawmakers on Wednesday further condemned the ICC’s pursuit of investigations against both the U.S. and Israel, saying in their letter to Pompeo that “the ICC does not enjoy legitimate jurisdiction in these cases.”

“In instances when war crimes are committed, we believe our nation and Israel are both able and willing to carry out investigations and prosecute offenders without ICC involvement,” House lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers also argued the determination of Palestine as a state for the purposes of the investigation undermines efforts for a solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict negotiated between the two parties.

“The ultimate sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian direct negotiations in pursuit of a two-state solution—not in the pursuit of cases at the ICC,” House lawmakers wrote in their letter. “These cases distract from and undermine our efforts to get the parties back to the table.”

The letters came as Pompeo returned to the U.S. from a whirlwind, six-hour trip to Israel where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his former political rival Benny Gantz, who will take on the role of Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister when the government is sworn in.

Countries allied with the U.S. and Israel have also called on the ICC to halt its investigations, in an opinion submitted in February on behalf of the Czech Republic, Germany, Australia, Austria, Brazil Hungary and Uganda, in addition to legal scholars.

The ICC last week tweeted out a statement attributed to Bensouda saying that “misinformation and smear campaigns” will not stop the investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes.

“Fact: my Office is executing its mandate concerning Palestine situation with utmost professionalism, independence & objectivity in strict conformity with the Rome Statute. Any insinuation or assertion to the contrary is simply misled & unfounded,” the statement read.

Tags Ben Cardin Benjamin Netanyahu Elaine Luria Mike Gallagher Mike Pompeo Rob Portman

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