Middle East Monitor / January 29, 2020
Israeli officials are at risk of being issued arrest warrants over possible war crimes in the occupied West Bank. That is the conclusion of Yuval Shany, an expert on international law at the Israel Democracy Institute.
Commenting on what may turn out to be a head on clash between Israel and the International Criminal Court (ICC) over its illegal settlement enterprise, Shany said that US President Donald Trump’s so-called “peace plan”, which endorses annexation, would “significantly” raise the risk of triggering prosecution at the ICC.
Shany’s assessment of a clash between Israel and the ICC was reported in the Times of Israel. The publication exposed the risk posed to Israeli officials by the warm embrace between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It’s thought that moving ahead with annexation, as set out in Trump’s “deal of the century”, will likely trigger harsh international condemnations and leave the ICC with no option except to find Israel guilty of having committing war crimes.
In December Fatou Bensouda, ICC Chief Prosecutor, opened a war crimes probe on Israel. “I am satisfied that … war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip,” Fatou Bensouda said while launching a full investigation.
The landmark decision was met with hostility in Tel-Aviv. Netanyahu dismissed the court’s decision, stating that it had no jurisdiction to investigate in the Palestinian Territories.
To disrupt the court’s probe, Israel threatened to prevent ICC officials from entering the occupied territories; a move that would mirror its treatment of United Nations investigators, also prevented from entering the region. A further attack on the ICC ensued. Netanyahu denounced the court’s decision as “pure anti-Semitism”.
Bensouda dismissed the allegation explaining that she had expected to face such attempts to undermine her credibility through “character assassination” in the same way that witnesses are discredited and undermined during a legal case.
According to Shany, the risk of Israel being found guilty of committing war crimes has increased. With settlements being widely viewed as illegal based on the Geneva Convention principle that an occupying power is barred from transferring its population into war-won territories, the conclusion for the ICC is likely to be a very simple one.
“That could be a relatively low-hanging fruit for the prosecutor to identify a specific act that is either part of the transfer or significantly aids and abets that transfer,” Shany said, regarding the ICC probe into Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.
Shany acknowledged that while the court would have a hard time prosecuting Israelis, it could issue arrest warrants that would make it difficult for Israeli officials to travel abroad. He also admitted that a case in the ICC would be deeply embarrassing to the government.
“The big white whale is the settlements,” Shany said. “That would be a major PR disaster for the country.”