Dozens of European ex-officials have condemned what they called political interference in efforts by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the situation in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
The open letter, published by The Guardian and signed by over 50 former foreign ministers, prime ministers, and senior international officials, denounced “increasing attacks on the ICC, its staff, and cooperating civil society groups."
“We witnessed with serious concern the executive order issued in the United States by the former president Donald Trump and the sanctions designated against the court’s staff and their family members,” the letter says.
The reference was made to the ex-POTUS Trump's sanctions and visa restrictions against ICC personnel issued in September 2020 on "national security grounds" pertaining to the court’s investigation of alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan.
The administration of US President Joe Biden rolled back the Trump-era restrictions earlier in the year.
“Deeply worrying is now the unwarranted public criticism of the court regarding its investigation of alleged crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, including unfounded accusations of antisemitism,” continued the letter.
The missive cited attempts to “discredit the court and obstruct its work,” in a push back against complaints like those levelled by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel on 9 April.
“We understand fears of politically motivated complaints and investigations. Yet we strongly believe that the Rome statute guarantees the highest criteria of justice and provides a crucial avenue to address impunity for the world’s most serious crimes. Failure to act would have grave consequences,” concluded the letter.
Its signatories come from across Europe’s political spectrum and include the Conservative former cabinet ministers Sayeeda Warsi and Chris Patten; Douglas Alexander, former labour secretary of state for international development; Sir Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrat party; and Ben Bradshaw, a former Labour minister from the Foreign Office.
Among the international signatories are a number of former prime ministers, including Jean-Marc Ayrault of France, Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, John Bruton of Ireland, Ingvar Carlsson of Sweden, and Massimo d’Alema of Italy.
In February 2021, the ICC ruled that it had jurisdiction to formally launch a probe into the matter, prompting the Israeli government to accuse the court of “anti-Semitism.” ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda ruled in mid-April that a full war crimes probe investigate Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian political and militant group.
The probe is expected to focus on the 2014 Gaza War and possible “intentionally…disproportionate attacks” by Israel, as well as incidents on the Gaza border in March 2018, which resulted in the death of over 200 people, including 40 children.
Israel's settlement policy and Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilians are also expected to be investigated.
BoJo responded by saying last month that the ICC probe gave “the impression of being a partial and prejudicial attack on a friend and ally of the UK’s,” referring to Israel.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed UK’s opposition to ICC investigation, asserting it doesn’t have jurisdiction and gives impression of being "partial and prejudicial attack" on Israel.— CFoI (@CFoI) April 13, 2021
CFI’s @SCrabbPembs @EricPickles & Lord Polak “strongly welcome” the confirmation👇 pic.twitter.com/6H0bO3pqxd
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu fumed in a videotaped statement:
“The decision of the international court to open an investigation against Israel today for war crimes is absurd. It’s undiluted antisemitism and the height of hypocrisy… The state of Israel is under attack this evening.”
The ICC’s investigation has also run into opposition from several European countries, including Germany. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that the “court has no jurisdiction because of the absence of the element of Palestinian statehood required by international law."
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas welcomed the probe, vowing to cooperate with the ICC while condemning Tel Aviv for refusing to do the same.