Israel on Thursday said it has formally decided not to cooperate with an International Criminal Court war crimes investigation into the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The ICC’s chief prosecutor announced on March 3 that she had opened a full investigation into the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories, infuriating Israel, which not a member of The Hague-based court.
The ICC sent a deferral notice on March 9, giving Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) a month to inform judges whether they are investigating crimes similar to those being probed by the ICC.
Had Israel informed the court that it was in fact carrying out its own probe into alleged war crimes perpetrators, it could have asked for a deferral.
Ahead of the deadline, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s office issued a statement saying the government had agreed “to not cooperate” with the ICC.
Israel would instead send a letter to the court “completely rejecting the claim that Israel commits war crimes”, it said.
The letter would also “reiterate Israel’s unequivocal position that The Hague tribunal has no authority to open an investigation against it”.
“The state of Israel is committed to the rule of law… and expects the court to refrain from violating its sovereignty and authority,” the statement reads.
The PA, based in the occupied West Bank, has been a state party to the ICC since 2015.
The Palestinians have welcomed the investigation and said they will not seek any deferral.
The world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal, the ICC was set up in 2002 to try humanity’s worst crimes where local courts are unwilling or unable to step in.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said her probe will cover the situation since 2014 in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
It will mainly focus on the 2014 Gaza war but also look at the deaths of Palestinian demonstrators from 2018 onwards.
After a five-year preliminary probe, Bensouda said there was a “reasonable basis” to believe crimes were committed by both sides — by the Israeli military, Hamas Islamists who have controlled Gaza since 2007 and Palestinian armed groups.
Hamas has welcomed the ICC probe and argued that its attacks on Israel were justified acts of “resistance”.
Netanyahu, a vocal critic of the ICC, on Thursday accused the court of “hypocrisy” for targeting Israel troops who “fight with high moral conduct against terrorists”.
The long-serving premier has previously lambasted the decision to open the probe as the “essence of anti-Semitism” and declared Israel was “under attack”.
Thursday’s statement marked the first time that Netanyahu had made it clear Israel would not directly engage with the ICC.
The United States has also criticized the ICC investigation and voiced support for its ally Israel.
The ICC last week welcomed US President Joe Biden‘s lifting of sanctions imposed by Donald Trump on Bensouda, saying it signaled a new era of cooperation with Washington.
The Trump administration imposed the financial sanctions and visa ban on Bensouda last year after she launched an investigation into alleged war crimes by US military personnel in Afghanistan.