ICC's 'wrong-headed' move to arrest Netanyahu will hinder ceasefire talks, Blinken says

In recent months the US has got 'very, very close' to helping secure a hostage-release and ceasefire deal, Secretary of State tells Congress

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the Senate foreign relations committee in Washington on Tuesday. EPA
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The International Criminal Court's decision to seek arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant is “wrong-headed”, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.

Mr Blinken said in testimony to Congress that the court's move draws a “shameful”, false equivalence between Israel and Hamas.

He said any future ceasefire or hostage deal has been made harder to achieve after the ICC's top prosecutor Karim Khan said the Israeli officials and three Hamas leaders, including Yahya Sinwar, should be arrested.

Recent months have seen the US get “very, very close” to helping secure a hostage-release and ceasefire deal, Mr Blinken said.

“The extremely wrong-headed decision by the ICC prosecutor, the shameful equivalence implied between Hamas and the leadership of Israel, I think that only complicates the prospects for getting such an agreement,” he told the Senate foreign relations committee.

Mr Blinken said that while a deal remained a possibility, it has been “challenged” by events including the ICC move.

He said he would “be happy” to work with Congress on issuing an “appropriate response” to Mr Khan.

During a later appearance before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mr Blinken again said he would "welcome working with you on that" when asked by lawmakers if he supported sanctions against ICC officials.

US President Joe Biden on Monday condemned the ICC's move as “outrageous”, and echoes of this same strong sentiment were heard in Congress, with some calling for sanctions against the ICC.

“Congress is reviewing all options, including sanctions, to punish the ICC and ensure its leadership faces consequences if they proceed,” Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson said in a post on X.

Mr Blinken appeared before Congress to discuss the State Department’s 2025 budget request, as well US diplomacy and global leadership.

His appearance comes after the State Department released a report that found that Israel may have broken international humanitarian law in its military offensive in Gaza, but said that “provision of defence articles” could still continue.

Within minutes of beginning to speak, Mr Blinken was interrupted by protesters calling him a “war criminal”.

Civilians ordered to flee eastern Rafah as Israel begins invasion – in pictures

“You will be remembered as the butcher of Gaza, you will be remembered for murdering innocent Palestinians,” shouted one protester.

Mr Blinken's testimony comes as Israel continues its military operations in Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians displaced from elsewhere in Gaza sought refuge.

Responding to a question from Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley on whether Mr Biden would “stand by his red line” on Rafah, he said a “very large exodus of people” in the area had already occurred.

But he refused to say whether Israel’s actions in Rafah had crossed Mr Biden’s threshold for withholding more weapons.

“We also remain very concerned about any major military operation and the impact it would have on the remaining population, given the dense urban environment in Rafah and what we've seen in other places,” Mr Blinken said.

“And so the President has been clear about this with Israel in public, as well as in conversations with others, about the fact that we will not agree to a major military operation.”

He acknowledged that it was in the US's national security interest to have a plan in place for a two-state solution in a clearly defined period.

“You've got five million Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza, you've got about seven million Israeli Jews. Neither is going anywhere,” Mr Blinken said.

“There has to be an accommodation and there has to be an accommodation that respects and fulfils the rights of everyone concerned.

"And it has to be done in a way that has the necessary guarantees for Israel's security and we are and will be adamant about that.

“That's the only pathway to sustainable security.”

Updated: May 21, 2024, 7:35 PM