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German president claims ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel

Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the International Criminal Court couldn't investigate alleged Israeli crimes 'due to the absence of Palestinian statehood'
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier lays a wreath during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on 23 January 2020 (AFP)

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier made controversial statements on Wednesday ahead of a state visit to Israel, saying that Israeli concerns regarding Iran's nuclear activities were "justified", and that the International Criminal Court (ICC) had no jurisdiction over Israel.

Steinmeier, who met with outgoing Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday, was interviewed by Israeli daily Haaretz ahead of his visit.

He said that the position of the German government was that the ICC - which notably investigates allegations of war crimes - had no jurisdiction over Palestinian complaints against Israel "due to the absence of Palestinian statehood".

In March, then-ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that she would formally investigate alleged war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel from 13 June 2014 onwards. She added that the court's priorities would be "determined in due time", and named both the Israeli army and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators who could be investigated.

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Bensouda left her position on 15 June and was succeeded by Karim Khan, a British lawyer who was sworn in for a nine-year term.

On Wednesday, Steinmeier told Haaretz that, though his government contests ICC jurisdiction, "Germany nevertheless respects the independence of the International Criminal Court and its prosecuting authority".

One of the leading countries of the European Union, Germany is the second-biggest exporter of weapons to Israel, and its military arsenal accounted for 24 per cent of Israel's arms imports between 2009-2020.

Steinmeier said that Khan would have to decide how to proceed with the investigations.

"Israel has repeatedly experienced discrimination and pressure in its dealings with the United Nations and associated organisations, giving it a much more sceptical perspective. It has much greater confidence in itself than in international organisations," Steinmeier said.

'Shameful and arrogant'

Palestinians had welcomed the ICC decision in March, while the US and Israel expressed disappointment

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said that Steinmeier's statements were "shameful and arrogant, and he has to apologise".

"[His statements] represent an invitation for Israel to perpetrate more crimes against our [Palestinian] people," the spokesperson added.

Steinmeier also said that Israel's concerns regarding Iran were "justified", but he stressed the importance of the ongoing negotiation in Geneva with Iranian officials to reach a deal on Iran's nuclear project.

"Germany and Israel share a common strategic goal: Iran must not acquire nuclear weapons. We also want to restrict Iran's missile programme and its destabilising activities in the region," Steinmeier said.