Skip to main content

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on Dec. 1, 2019.POOL/Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a personal appeal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to condemn the International Criminal Court for taking a major step toward investigating Israel for alleged war crimes against Palestinians.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced last week that there is a basis to investigate Israel for its actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly the deadly air strikes during the 50-day Gaza war in 2014, but she is first asking the court whether it has jurisdiction there.

The prosecutor would also like to investigate shootings by Israel Defence Forces of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza-Israel border during demonstrations in the spring of 2018, when Palestinian-Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani was wounded by an Israeli sniper while providing medical care.

The formal investigation that Ms. Bensouda is prepared to initiate would also examine possible war crimes by Hamas, the militant Islamic group that rules Gaza.

Mr. Netanyahu has condemned the prosecutor’s decision, saying she has turned the International Criminal Court into a “political tool to delegitimize the state of Israel” and urged Israeli allies to stand firm with Jerusalem.

In a letter to Mr. Trudeau on Dec. 20 that was obtained by The Globe and Mail, the Israeli leader called the prosecutor’s decision “unfounded and outrageous.”

Mr. Netanyahu said the ICC has no jurisdiction to investigate, arguing Palestinians do not meet the criteria of statehood because they do not have sovereignty over defined borders. He wrote that the prosecutor’s decision will perpetuate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not contribute to peace negotiations.

“In light of our special relations and the steadfast friendship between our counties, I urge you to publicly condemn this erroneous decision, to acknowledge there is not a Palestinian state, that the court has no jurisdiction in this matter, which involves political issues to be determined by the parties, and to voice your deep concerns regarding its dangerous ramifications to the court and the region,” Mr. Netanyahu wrote.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already condemned the court’s announcement, saying it “unfairly targets” Israel.

“Such a decision, influenced by Palestinian manipulation, turns the ICC into a political weapon for waging political war against democratic states, in this case, against the state of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu wrote in his letter to Mr. Trudeau.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment. Adam Austen, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, echoed Israel’s position, but did not condemn the ICC’s Ms. Bensouda for her initiative.

“Canada’s long-standing position is that it does not recognize a Palestinian state and therefore does not recognize the accession of such a state to international treaties," Mr. Austen said.

He added that Canada is “monitoring the ICC’s consideration of the situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip” and supports the "creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel, achieved through direct negotiations between the parties.”

When Stephen Harper was prime minister, Canada filed a formal protest with Ms. Bensouda’s office in early 2015 when she first talked about holding a preliminary probe of alleged Israeli war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza.

Irwin Cotler, former justice minister and chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, said he believes the ICC does not have jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories because a precondition for that jurisdiction is Palestinian statehood. “The road to that is through direct negotiations between the parties,” he said.

Dr. Loubani, who is an emergency physician in London, Ont., said Canada must support justice for Palestinian civilians who he said are being shot by Israeli soldiers.

“There has been a failure of the international community through normal channels to stop the killing and the maiming of civilians who are protesting peacefully and if the ICC can bring the necessary accountability with the goal of reducing what is happening then I support that,” Dr. Loubani said.

Israel is not a member of the ICC and does not accept its jurisdiction, but the Palestinians are recognized as a member state and requested the ICC probe. The stalled peace process has led Palestinians to use international laws to hold Israel to account for alleged violations of human rights, including the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

An ICC panel of three judges from France, Hungary and Benin has been given 120 days to issue its judgment on the scope of the court’s jurisdiction – a ruling that is likely to be issued after the next Israeli elections.

Mohammad Eghnaim, president of the Palestinian Community Association, said everyone should welcome the ICC’s investigation, saying he has waited to see this for “a long time."

“If Canada believes this court is fair and just, it’s not influenced by any other country, it’s seeking the truth, seeking the facts. … Canada should stand firm against any oppression no matter who’s doing it,” he said.

Editor’s note: (Dec. 27, 2019) An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the West Bank is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. While it controls a large portion, Israel controls the majority.