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PM’s opposition to probe into Israel war crimes a hit on ‘the UK credibility’

14th May 2021
PM’s opposition to probe into Israel war crimes a hit on ‘the UK credibility’

Boris Johnson meeting Benjamin Netanyahu,in London (photo credit: Foreign Office/Flickr Commons)

Nadine Osman

The Palestinian Authority on April 14 condemned the UK Prime Minister opposition to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to investigate Israel for possible war crimes as a hit on “the UK’s credibility on the international stage” as well as “a contradiction of British policy”.

In a letter to Conservative Friends of Israel on April 13, Boris Johnson wrote, ‘We do not accept that the ICC has jurisdiction in this instance, given that Israel is not a party to the Statute of Rome and Palestine is not a sovereign state.’ Adding that the decision ‘gives the impression of being a prejudicial attack’ on the Jewish state.

In response, the following day, the PA’s mission in London said that the letter “marks a low point in UK-Palestine relations and undermines the UK’s credibility on the international stage.”

“The letter is a contradiction of international law. It is a contradiction of British policy. It subverts the rules-based global order. And it sets back efforts to secure a lasting and just peace in Palestine,” the diplomatic mission said.

“If Mr Johnson disputes this, he disputes the legitimacy of the Court,” the Palestinian mission in London added. However, the UK in recent years has pushed for an ICC mandate over crises in non-member countries, including Syria and Libya.

When the Trump administration targeted the ICC in 2020 with punitive sanctions aimed at thwarting investigations in Afghanistan and Palestine, the UK rallied around the court with other member countries to counter the unprecedented US action.

The UK’s long-standing embrace of the ICC’s makes Johnson’s denunciation of the International Criminal Court Palestine investigation all the more jarring and suggests an about-face – although the UK has a history of double standards on Israel and Palestine, argues Human Rights Watch.

In the letter, Johnson states that the court’s newly elected prosecutor and a judge – both British nationals – will “help serve reform at the court.” Human Rights Watch argues that implies the Prime Minister sees their role as being in the service of the UK’s agenda, counter to their mandate to act independently.

In March, the ICC announced it would investigate possible war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinians following a request by the Palestinians, who joined the court in 2015 after being granted non-member observer status in the UN General Assembly.

Israel has fiercely condemned the investigation, accusing the ICCof bias, claiming that Israel is demonstrably capable of investigating any alleged Israel Defense Forces crimes through its legal hierarchies.

Israel insists the ICC has no jurisdiction since Palestinians do not have a state. Israel is not a member of the ICC, but its citizens could be subject to arrest abroad if warrants are issued. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement issued on April 8 that it would not cooperate with the investigation.

The International Criminal Court’s probe is expected to focus on three main areas: the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas; Israeli settlement policy and the 2018 Great March of Return protests, a series of violent demonstrations along Gaza’s border with Israel resulting in dozens of Palestinians dead.

The probe will also look at rocket fire from Gaza at civilian areas in Israel.

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