The Israeli government reversed its stand at the last minute and decided on Sunday night to sign a charter establishing the International Criminal Court to try individuals for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.
Earlier in the day, the cabinet voted not to sign the charter, because of a clause inserted by Arab states that defines as a “war crime” the “transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Israeli leaders have worried that the court may be used to try Israeli soldiers, settlers and officials for activities in the disputed territories of Judea/Samaria, Gaza and the Golan.
Israel’s Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, in a written opinion to the cabinet, had said this clause was “politically motivated” and directed against Israel. The cabinet voted seven to four against joining the treaty. However, several Cabinet ministers managed to include an escape route for signing the treaty, saying that if the US, which was also leaning against signing, decided at the last minute to do so, Israel would reassess its position and coordinate it with the US.
Within hours, US President Bill Clinton – who had come under great pressure from human rights organizations to endorse the agreement – reversed course and decided to sign, prompting Israel to follow along. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak did so on the opinion of Alan Baker, legal advisor to the Foreign Ministry, who maintained Israel’s interests would not be harmed by signing the treaty, since it was not binding on Israel until it was ratified by each country’s parliament. Israel will also sign with the caveat that the “settlements clause” not be used against it.
Israel and prominent Jewish figures worldwide originally were prominent backers of the treaty, based on the lessons of the Holocaust and the Nurenburg trials. But that changed when Arab states managed to win passage of the “settlements clause.”
The decision to establish a permanent international criminal court was taken in Rome in 1998, when 160 nations voted for the treaty, and seven – including Israel and the US – voted against. The US has been concerned the court would be exploited politically against American leaders and soldiers because of US military involvement around the world.
Sunday was the deadline for countries to sign the treaty at the UN. After that, the legislatures of signatory countries must ratify the treaty before they can become a party to it, a process that can take years.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.