War crimes probe driving Israeli-Palestinian tension, US warns

The Biden administration’s attitude towards the International Criminal Court tribunal may be hardening

View of the court at the start of the appearing of alleged leaders of Central African Republic militias, Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, February 16, 2021.  ICC-CPI/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT

The US on Friday criticised the International Criminal Court for extending its jurisdiction to cover Palestinian lands, saying investigations there would deepen the long-standing enmity between Israelis and Palestinians.

Washington’s deputy UN envoy Richard Mills said the court's ruling earlier this month to expand its jurisdiction over occupied Palestinian territories would “increase tension” between the neighbours and “undercut” efforts towards an elusive peace deal.

His comments suggest a hardening of the Biden administration’s view of the court and follow revelations that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged US President Joe Biden not to lift sanctions on court officials imposed by the previous Trump administration.

The court move to extend its jurisdiction over the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza was made in spite of the “serious legal and factual questions that surround its ability to do so”, Mr Mills said at virtual UN Security Council talks.

“Such actions against Israel at the [court] increase tension and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price expressed “serious concerns” after the Hague-based court made its February 5 ruling, which paved the way for investigations into war crimes committed by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr Mills’s comments at the UN on Friday used tougher language and came after the call from Mr Netanyahu, according to news outlet Axios.

The Biden administration had said it was reviewing the Trump-era sanctions, which were made in retaliation for the tribunal launching investigations into the Afghan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.

Neither Israel nor the US is an International Criminal Court member and both countries have sought to shield their citizens from prosecution by the court. Still, Washington has at times supported the tribunal’s work in some countries.

Afghanistan and the Palestinian Authority are members of the court.

Tension over the court’s jurisdiction and possible atrocity probes into Israelis and Americans have presented an early challenge for the Biden administration, which says it wants to re-engage with the UN and other multilateral bodies.