Hundreds of US lawmakers have signed onto two letters to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to continue his “vigorous support of Israel as it faces the growing possibility of investigations and prosecutions by the International Criminal Court” over potential war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The letters, spearhead by Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, as well as Reps. Elaine Luria, D-Va., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., were a key agenda item for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at its annual Capitol Hill lobby day in March.
“The ICC can only consider allegations brought to it by states, yet ‘Palestine’ does not meet the criteria to qualify for that designation,” the 331 lawmakers argued. “The ICC has never formally investigated any accusations within disputed territories; doing so now unfairly targets Israel.”
The letter goes on to argue that “the ICC’s mandate should not supersede Israel’s robust judicial system, including its military justice system” and that the court “does not have a mandate to determine whether the relevant territories are part of the state of Israel or occupied Palestinian lands.” The lawmakers also accuse ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of “making a political judgement that biases any subsequent investigation or trial.”
Why it matters: Palestine formally joined the ICC in 2015, and after a yearslong preliminary investigation, Bensouda determined in December that “there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine.” She released the 60-page legal basis for the investigation last month.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the world’s largest Christian broadcasting network in January to urge “concrete actions, sanctions, against the international court — its officials, its prosecutors, everyone.” Pompeo announced last year that the United States would repeal and deny visas to ICC staff investigating possible American war crimes in Afghanistan, threatening to extend the same policy to ICC staffers investigating Israel.
For his part, Netanyahu hopes to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank as well as the entire Jordan Valley as soon as July.
What’s next: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will convene tomorrow to vote on legislation codifying Israel’s annual $3.8 billion in US military aid into law — another AIPAC lobbying priority.
Know more: AIPAC scored another significant victory last week when 391 House members signed onto a letter calling for an extension of the UN arms embargo on Iran. That included one surprising signatory — Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — as Bryant Harris reports here.