The United States “firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed” by the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to open a war crimes investigation in the occupied Palestinian territories, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.
The investigation, which was announced on Wednesday, comes after a February ICC determination that the occupied Palestinian territories fall under its jurisdiction, paving the way for an investigation of war crimes committed by both Palestinians and Israelis.
“The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the Court’s jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel,” Blinken said in a statement.
“The Palestinians do not qualify as a sovereign state and therefore, are not qualified to obtain membership as a state in, participate as a state in, or delegate jurisdiction to the ICC,” he said.
A resolution passed by the United Nations in 2012 changed the occupied Palestinian territories from an “observer entity” to a “non-member observer state”, a de facto recognition of sovereignty that opened the door for the ICC’s ruling on jurisdiction.
The secretary of state added that the US “will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly”.
Mr. Blinken, why is it unfair to investigate allegations of serious international crimes, in the context of a 50-year military occupation that makes accountability at the domestic level impossible? Isn’t that why the US helped create the ICC in 1998? https://t.co/pa9whMkTCi https://t.co/YAqENASD4m
— Sari Bashi (@saribashi) March 4, 2021
The stance echoes that of Israel, who quickly decried the court’s investigation, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling the probe “the essence of anti-Semitism”.
Meanwhile, the ICC’s decision has been welcomed by the Palestinian Authority, which called it “a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve”.
Hamas also praised the probe, while defending its own actions.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said the inquiry into the “situation in Palestine” will be conducted “independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour”, but further details of the probe have not yet been released.
Blinken’s condemnation comes as pressure has grown for Washington to lift Trump era sanctions on Bensouda and other ICC staff.
During the two leaders’ first phone call, Netanyahu had reportedly pressured Biden to maintain the sanctions in light of the court’s determination of jurisdiction of the occupied Palestinian territories in February.
The US, which is not a party to the Rome Statute, the foundational and governing treaty of the ICC, has said it is reviewing the Trump sanctions, initially imposed as a response to an ICC investigation into Afghanistan that includes looking into US abuses committed there.
While Trump took an antagonistic approach to the court, his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, had pursued a policy of “positive engagement” which saw the US supporting ICC investigations on an ad hoc basis.
The administration of President Joe Biden, which has emphasised human rights and a multilateral approach to foreign policy, was widely expected to take a similar tack, but the delay in lifting the Trump sanctions has raised questions over whether Biden will be colder towards the court than Obama, his former boss.
Biden’s State Department had in February praised the ICC for deciding to convict Dominic Ongwen, the commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), for war crimes committed in Uganda in the early 2000s.
In his statement on Wednesday, Blinken said the US “remains deeply committed to ensuring justice and accountability for international atrocity crimes” and recognises “the role that international tribunals such as the ICC can play”.
He added: “The ICC was established by its States Parties as a Court of limited jurisdiction. Those limits on the Court’s mandate are rooted in fundamental principles of international law and must be respected.”