Israel/Hamas: controversy over ICC arrest warrants request

The application by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant as well as three Hamas leaders has electrified the international community. The charges are war crimes and crimes against humanity in Israel and Gaza. Israel, the US, the UK and Germany have criticised the bid saying it equates the leaders of a democratic country with terrorists. Commentators weigh in.

Open/close all quotes
De Volkskrant (NL) /

Finally a red line

De Volkskrant columnist Ibtihal Jadib defends the Prosecutor of the ICC, Karim Khan:

“Khan is the first to actually dare to draw a red line. Instead of threatening or pressurising him, we should breathe a sigh of relief that someone is still trying to uphold international law. All those nice treaties are not just there for show. When potential violations occur we must be ready to investigate crimes, no matter who is behind them. In Khan's words: 'Look at the evidence. Look at the conduct. Look at the victims and airbrush out the nationality'.”

Politiken (DK) /

Rejection of prosecutor's bid would be hypocritical

Politiken also supports the prosecution's initiative:

“The court must decide whether the requirements for the arrest warrant have been met, but the public prosecutor is sending exactly the right signal with his decision. The signal that everyone can be held accountable for their actions. Also those from Western countries and from our allied countries. ... International law is universal, that is the fundamental idea, and that is why it is crucial that the West supports the ICC prosecutor's call for arrest warrants. Anything else would expose us as hypocrites of the worst kind.”

Svenska Dagbladet (SE) /

Unfortunate parallels

Khan and his supporters could have adopted a smarter approach, Svenska Dagbladet criticises:

“When the chief prosecutor of the ICC says that 'no one is above the law', which is of course true, yet in the same breath calls for the arrest of both the terrorists and those who are fighting for the recovery of their kidnapped citizens, the asymmetry is glaring. ... This is not to say that the ICC should not investigate the question of whether Israel has committed war crimes. ... However, the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC has considerable discretion as to which cases it tries and how it presents them. The important task of investigating potential war crimes could now be restricted and the relevance of the ICC is at risk.”

Spotmedia (RO) /

Don't forget October 7

Spotmedia stresses Hamas's responsibility for the current situation:

“The Israeli offensive in Gaza has not been without mistakes. And Prime Minister Netanyahu is a more than questionable leader. He weakened the country with his anti-justice campaign until its vulnerability was exploited by Hamas. Every civilian casualty is a great tragedy and every single mistake must be punished. But that must not lead us to forget October 7, or the act of terrorism that triggered this response, or who is using civilians as human shields, or the hostages, or the fact that these terrorists were voted in by today's civilian victims and their families.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Unintended protection for Bibi

The application for an arrest warrant against Israel's prime minister is actually exacerbating the crisis, writes Der Standard:

“It comes at a time when the external and internal pressure on Netanyahu to end the war or at least lead to a political solution is reaching a climax and increasingly jeopardising the future of the government. But now the country is showing solidarity with the prime minister, which makes Netanyahu rejoice inwardly. His attack on Khan, whom he has described as 'one of the great antisemites in modern times', is grossly exaggerated and another example of how Netanyahu constantly instrumentalises the accusation of antisemitism. But the initiative plays into his and other hardliners' hands, weakens his critics and could prolong the war instead of shortening it.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

ICC has emancipated itself from US

Jutarnji list finds the initiative noteworthy given Washington's negative stance:

“Although the US does not formally recognise the ICC, it passionately supports its work in some cases (when it suits its own purposes). This was the case recently with the investigation into Putin's war crimes in Ukraine, which the US funded unconditionally. ... Because the US sponsored and supervised its work, the ICC has so far been very dependent on the superpower's support. ... The fact that the ICC decided to take such a step without the US's blessing shows how autonomous it has become in recent years. That was also the intention at the time when the Rome Statute was agreed and the ICC was founded.”

Público (PT) /

Treat Israel like any other country

Público shows understanding for the judgment against Netanyahu and Gallant:

“Israel has the right to exist, it has the right to defend itself, but it doesn't have the right to do what it is doing now. ... What is tolerated coming from Israel would not be tolerated coming from Russia, China, Iran or any other country. ... UN officials and Human Rights Watch have reported that they are now the target of planned attacks by Israeli security forces.”

The Spectator (GB) /

This court is biased

For The Spectator the arrest warrant against Netanyahu is unjust:

“Syrian president Bashar Assad, whose struggle to remain in power resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians, including through use of chemical weapons, has not been issued one. Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei, whose country has been violently targeting women and dissidents, violating human rights and sponsoring international terrorism, has also not been issued with one. It is also curious that it has taken the ICC seven months after Hamas's hideous attack to threaten its leaders with arrest warrants. The court's selective approach raises concerns that it may not be as fair and impartial as it should be, and therefore, not fit for purpose.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Arrogant and counterproductive

The International Criminal Court is exerting influence on an ongoing conflict, criticises the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“This is presumptuous and extremely unwise - any actor who has any idea of politics would be happy to leave this hot potato for a subsidiary level to deal with and only intervene if it then fails to address the problem. ... The ICC will cause quite a stir with arrest warrants against Netanyahu, Gallant and the Hamas henchmen but will fail to achieve its legal goals, because it is entirely unrealistic that they will be extradited. What the ICC will achieve, however, is the political strengthening of those forces in Israel that are behind the crackdown in Gaza, as well as of the antisemitic enemies of Israel. ... An international organisation could hardly behave more nonsensically.”

La Stampa (IT) /

This is about individuals, not nations

Vladimiro Zagrebelsky, former judge of the ECHR, defends the ruling in La Stampa:

“It would be dramatic for the credibility of international humanitarian law - and for the international legal system - if the commitment made by the states were now ignored, or even turned into an accusation of political insensitivity or bias levelled against the prosecutor and the judges. ... With their claim to immunity the most powerful governments would gain the upper hand. ... In the past, the ICC has been accused of focusing only on Africa and numerous African rulers. The investigative work and the conclusions of the ICC prosecutor show that these allegations of bias and discrimination were unfounded. ... The ICC passes judgment on individuals, not states.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

New era for Israeli politicians

The indictment is a turning point for the relationship between Israel and the Western alliance of states, the Süddeutsche Zeitung notes:

“If the rift had already been apparent for some time, this is now notarised confirmation of it. The way Western allies, including the US, have clearly distanced themselves from the government in Jerusalem recently has no doubt emboldened The Hague to intervene. Now the world will become a very small place for Netanyahu and his defence minister, with the threat of arrest if they travel to Europe, for example. Hamas couldn't care less if there are warrants for its leaders' arrest; their status as pariahs can't get any worse than it already is. But a new era is dawning for Israel's politicians.”