Council on American-Islamic Relations executive director Nihad Awad. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – Two leading American Muslim organizations on Thursday slammed Secretary of State Antony Blinken for voicing opposition to the International Criminal Court decision to open an investigation into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories. American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) were additionally unhappy about Blinken’s reference to “the Palestinian situation” – rather than their favored terms such as “apartheid” or “campaign of terror.”
In a Wednesday night statement, Blinken had said the U.S. firmly opposes ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s announcement confirming “the opening of an investigation into the Palestinian situation.”
Reaffirming a position also held by the Trump administration, he said the U.S. does not believe the Palestinian territories constitute a sovereign state, and as a result are not qualified to participate as a state in international bodies, including the ICC.
In addition, Israel is not a party to the court’s founding charter, the Rome Statute, and has not consented to ICC jurisdiction.
In their criticism of the U.S. stance, CAIR and AMP appeared particularly troubled by Blinken’s wording.
“Israeli war crimes are not a ‘Palestine situation,’ they constitute an Israeli government campaign of terror the occupied Palestinian people have suffered through for decades as our nation has turned a blind eye,” said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad.
“Continued U.S. opposition to the ICC investigation would demonstrate the Biden administration obstructing justice for Palestinians seeking to hold Israeli war criminals accountable as they live under perpetual Israeli apartheid,” he added.
“Palestinians are not a ‘situation,’ Secretary of State Blinken,” said AMP executive director Osama Abuirshaid. “Palestinians are a people who are deprived of their rights by Israel’s apartheid rule.”
Bensouda in her own announcement referred to “the situation in Palestine,” and indeed, in its documents, the ICC formally refers to the docket as “Situation in Palestine” or “Situation in the State of Palestine.”
(There is no “State of Palestine,” despite United Nations’ terminology to that effect; Ever since Palestinian leaders unilaterally declared statehood in 1988, Republican and Democratic administrations have opposed the admission of the Palestinian territories to the U.N. as a state.
The ICC in 2015 allowed the “State of Palestine” to become a party to the Rome Statute despite not being a sovereign state.)
International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. (Photo by Isaac Kasamani/AFP via Getty Images)
‘We will let the ICC die on its own’
Based in The Hague, the ICC was established to deal with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, with the Rome Statute giving it jurisdiction only where national legal systems are “unwilling or unable” to fulfill their functions properly.
The U.S. relationship with the ICC has been a troubled one from the outset, largely due to fears of the risk of politically-motivated prosecution of military personnel stationed abroad.
President Clinton signed the Rome Statute in 1998 but did not seek Senate advice and consent and recommended that President George W. Bush also not do so until concerns had been put to rest. The Bush administration “unsigned” the treaty in 2002, and negotiated more than 100 agreements with nations which undertook not to surrender American citizens to the ICC without Washington’s consent.
Neither the Obama nor the Trump administrations sought Senate approval for the treaty, and the latter showed its disdain for the institution by barring entry into the U.S. of anyone “directly responsible for any ICC investigation of U.S. personnel,” and revoking Bensouda’s visa.
In a 2018 speech, then-National Security Advisor John Bolton summed up the position: The administration would neither cooperate with, provide assistance to, nor join the court, he said, but “we will let the ICC die on its own.”
Since taking office Biden has reversed several of Trump’s decisions relating to multilateral diplomacy, including returning to the World Health Organization and Paris climate accord, and re-engaging with the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Thus far it has taken no comparable steps relating to the ICC, although in his statement reacting to Bensouda’s announcement, Blinken did refer to the tribunal in more respectful terms.
“The United States remains deeply committed to ensuring justice and accountability for international atrocity crimes. We recognize the role that international tribunals such as the ICC can play – within their respective mandates – in the pursuit of those important objectives.”
At the same time, he added, “The ICC was established by its states parties as a court of limited jurisdiction. Those limits on the court’s mandate are rooted in fundamental principles of international law and must be respected.”
In her statement, Bensouda said the investigation would examine “crimes within the jurisdiction of the court that are alleged to have been committed” since June 13, 2014, in the territories claimed by the Palestinians.
The date relates to a flare-up of violence in the region, sparked by Hamas’ kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and the firing of rockets from Gaza. Israel launched an offensive against the terrorist group in Gaza, and during 50 days of fighting and rocket attacks more than 2,100 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the ICC decision “scandalous” and vowed to “fight for the truth” until it is annulled.
The Palestinian Authority welcomed the move, saying it “serves Palestine’s vigorous effort to achieve justice and accountability as indispensable bases for peace.”