US House to vote on sanctioning International Criminal Court

The US House of Representatives is due to vote on legislation that would sanction the International Criminal Court (ICC) after its prosecutor applied for arrest warrants against Israeli officials.

The move comes after The Hague-based court’s prosecutor said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant should be arrested on charges relating to the war in Gaza.

The prosecutor is also seeking warrants for three leaders of the Palestinian armed group, Hamas.

The bill, proposed by pro-Israel Republicans, would target ICC officials involved with the case by blocking their entry to the US.

It would also revoke any US visas held by the officials and restrict them from property transactions in the US.

On Tuesday afternoon, the measure is expected to pass the Republican-controlled House.

Congressman Chip Roy, a Texas Republican who introduced the legislation, titled the Illegitimate Court Counteraction Act, has called the ICC “a massive threat to US sovereignty”.

But if the proposal is approved by the House, it is likely to be ignored by Democrats who control the Senate.

Even if it did clear Congress, President Biden, who has said he “strongly opposes” the bill, would be likely to veto it.

The issue may split his fellow Democrats.

When the measure cleared the House Rules Committee on Monday, Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, said: “This bill makes a mockery of the rules-based international order that America helped build.”

But some pro-Israel House Democrats have indicated they may back the measure.

Last month, ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan said he had “reasonable grounds” to believe that Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant, as well as Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, military chief Mohammed Deif and political leader Ismail Haniyeh, bore “criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war in Gaza.

It marked the first time the ICC has targeted the top leader of a close US ally.

The conflict began when Hamas gunmen attacked southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and taking 251 others hostage, according to Israeli authorities.

At least 36,470 people have since been killed in Gaza during Israel’s military campaign to destroy Hamas, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Israel’s government and Hamas reacted last month with outrage to Mr Khan’s announcement.

Mr Netanyahu denounced the warrant applications against him and Mr Gallant as a “moral outrage of historic proportions”.

Mr Gallant accused the prosecutor of drawing a “despicable” parallel between Israel and Hamas and attempting to deny his country’s right to self-defence.

Hamas – which is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and other countries – demanded the cancellation of the warrant applications for its leaders and denounced what it called Mr Khan’s attempts “to equate the victim with the executioner”.

If the ICC’s judges decide to issue the arrest warrants, it will be up to its 124 member states – including the UK and many other US allies – to decide whether or not to enforce them.

The White House said in a statement on Monday that while the ICC prosecutor’s warrant applications for Israeli leaders were “outrageous”, it did not support the bill.

“There are more effective ways to defend Israel, preserve US positions on the ICC, and promote international justice and accountability, and the administration stands ready to work with the Congress on those options,” it said.

Created by a UN treaty in 2002, the ICC investigates and brings to justice those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, intervening when national authorities cannot or will not prosecute.

The US – like Israel – is not a member of the ICC and does not recognise its jurisdiction, but has backed its previous prosecutions and arrest warrants not related to Israel and the Palestinians.

In 2020 under the Trump administration, the US imposed sanctions on top ICC officials, including Mr Khan’s predecessor, after the court began investigating alleged war crimes committed by the US and others in the Afghan conflict.

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